The head coach should have overruled the offensive coordinator or the quarterback could have picked both of them up from their bad decisions by understanding situational football.
Heck, even the left tackle could have even tried doing his job.
There were a lot of moving parts that contributed to the Minnesota Vikings’ 23-30 soul-crushing loss to the powerful Arizona Cardinals on Thursday night, but no matter how you frame them the words “moral victory” shouldn’t escape your lips when describing the Vikings’ performance.
With 13 seconds left and no timeouts remaining, Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer should have put overtime in the hands of kicker Blair Walsh and lived with the results of a potential 48-yard, field-goal attempt.
Instead he allowed offensive coordinator Norv Turner to roll the dice in a misguided attempt to make things a little easier for Walsh.
After all, Turner should understand he has one of the league’s worst pass-blocking offensive lines and a second-year quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater, who is one of the NFL’s worst when it comes to getting the ball out of his hands.
No one is questioning whether Turner alerted the key components on the play of the situation, but the definition of a good coach is putting the players in the best position to succeed. And in a twisted way he did, because Arizona’s Dwight Freeney got to show off his legendary spin move on Minnesota left tackle Matt Kalil, who was face-planted as Freeney turnstiled him on the way to forcing a Bridgewater fumble that Calais Campbell recovered.
“I had that clock going off in my head,” Bridgewater, who threw for a career-high 335 yards in the game, told reporters after the setback. “I was getting ready to throw it out of bounds. The guy just hit me from behind.”
Kalil, once a Pro Bowl player as a rookie who has since declined dramatically, understood the impact of his late-game mistake.
“I got beat,” he admitted. “That’s what happened.”
It didn’t have to happen, though, because the coaches should also realized the situation, not only as it pertains to the game but also to their personnel. In theory no one knows better than Zimmer and Turner that Kalil often struggles with speed rushers and Bridgewater is a tick slow pulling the trigger at this point of his career.
“We were trying to throw the ball to the sideline,” Zimmer said. “We told (Bridgewater), ‘You can’t complete the ball in bounds,’ because with 12 or 13 seconds left, that’s right at the time where you can spike the ball and get the clock stopped. You can’t complete the ball in bounds, and you can’t take a sack.”
So that’s it?
Abdication of responsibility doesn’t exactly define leadership.
Zimmer’s explanation is something obvious to every viewer at home, but those casual fans don’t necessarily know the story of your particular personnel on any given night.
The walk-off sack and forced fumble clinched a playoff spot for the 11-2 Cardinals and sent the reeling 8-5 Vikings to their second straight defeat, along with the fear of a late-season implosion knocking them from the playoff picture.
The eternally optimistic will certainly point to the fact that the Minnesota defense was playing without its top playmaker each level, nose tackle Linval Joseph, linebacker Anthony Barr and safety Harrison Smith, but once you’re in the game, those excuses should always be tabled.
“I thought our team resembled more of what I am used to seeing,” Zimmer said. “We played with a lot of physicality, a lot of heart, a lot of effort.”
Great, send me your address and the participation ribbon will be on its way–along with the understanding that the dynamics of the NFC North remain the same. The Green Bay Packers find ways to win (see their Week 13 Hail Mary in Detroit as evidence of that), and Zimmer’s Vikings come up small on the big stage.
— John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com and TodaysPigskin.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @jfmcmullen — Also catch John this season on ESPN Southwest Florida every Monday at 3 PM ET; on ESPN Lexington every Thursday at 6:05 ET, and live every Tuesday from 2 to 6 PM ET at the Golden Nugget Casino in Atlantic City for the NFL Wraparound on ESPN South Jersey.
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