There’s been a lot of discussion about whether the Minnesota Vikings were intentionally running up the score in the fourth quarter of their NFL Divisional Playoff matchup against the Cowboys last week. If you didn’t see the game, the Vikings held a commanding lead of 27-3 with less than five minutes remaining in the game and the Cowboys had exhausted all of their timeouts.
Minnesota had the ball, and unlike most teams do in similar situations, they continued to throw the ball and even went as far as going (and converting) two separate fourth-down calls. Cowboys linebacker Keith Brooking was one of the many Dallas players that took exception with the playcalling and went as far as to race over to the Vikings sidelines and confront players and coaches before being restrained by his teammates. Brooking said the moves were “classless” and would not soon be forgotten by the boys from Big D.
Minnesota fans and players defend the actions by saying if you didn’t like what we were doing then step up, make a play and stop us. Coaches defending the team’s actions by saying they simply wanted to keep the clock ticking.
While I can make a valid case for either side of that argument, I think the bigger question that is being missed in the wake of all the finger-pointing is why were the Minnesota Vikings starters still in the game at that point? Leading by three scores (three TDs and three successful 2-point conversions) with under five minutes left in the fourth quarter should be a lock. When a team manages just three points in the first 55 minutes of a ballgame, what makes you think they’d be able to suddenly score three touchdowns in five minutes?
Consider for a second the discussion we’d all be having if during the Vikings final drive (remember now, it’s 27-3 with under three minutes to play) that the center exchange between John Sullivan and Brett Favre is fumbled. During the course of the ensuing scrum for the loose ball, Favre jumps on the ball but has his right hand stepped on by a Dallas defender. Favre comes out of the pile with the football but has broke two fingers in the process and is forced to miss the next two games. No NFC title game, no Super Bowl. Or what if during the course of the final drive, Favre (as he did) throws a deep ball to receiver Sydney Rice who beats the Dallas defender but pulls off the route late because he pulled his hamstring? How about Adrian Peterson is blocking on that same deep ball to Rice but one of his own lineman gets pushed back into his legs and he tears the MCL on his knee?
The possibilities of a late injury occurring are endless and almost every one of them would severely damage, if not eliminate, the Vikings or any other team from Super Bowl contention quicker than you can say “padding stats.”
In this situation, it’s totally understandable why the Cowboys still had their starting defensive unit in the game despite the outcome of the game being decided midway through the third quarter. They lose, their done. No next week, no Super Bowl to prepare for and plenty of time in the offseason to fix whatever may ail them.
As for the Vikings perspective, still not sure what coach Brad Childress was thinking but that’s another story for another blog. I’m still not sure why Childress and others aren’t quicker to put in their back-ups when the game dictates they can afford to. An injury to one player could mean the difference between winning a championship so why risk it when the game’s outcome has long been decided? To my knowledge, nobody got injured during the Vikings final scoring drive but as soon as somebody does in a similar situation I’ll be the first one saying “I told you so.” It’s simply a case when the negative possibilities (losing a star player) far outweighs any of the positives (none that I can see) so you error on the side of caution and move onto the next round with all your players intact.