Week 15: Vikings vs. Pittsburgh

- wadE

In the same spirit as a Twins article I read recently... I wish I had never before complained about officiating so I could have saved it all up for this game. Without a doubt, the worst officiated game I had ever seen. Since I was there in person, I'd be very curious to hear what the announcers were saying while the eon-long wait over whose ball it was after the punt early in the game. That whole series was ridiculous. First it was our ball, then it was their ball, then Mike Tice had to educate the referees and point them to the Jumbotron, then they said it was our ball, then they talked to Cowher and suddenly his offensive guys went on the field, but then our offense went on the field. I could just see the opposing centers aruging over who was supposed to be hiking the ball.

Add to that that obscenely late pass interference call against the Vikings that was eventually picked up after a 5 minute delay, and the challenged and incorrectly upheld play that Marcus Robinson did not catch a touchdown pass. Awful doesn't even being to describe Ed "Hercules" Hoculi's crew that day.

With all that being said, that wasn't the reason the Vikings lost the game. As easy as it would be to say "the refs jobbed us!", that isn't the whole truth.

Mike Tice actually says it best in an article where he blames the loss on offense and special teams. That's completely accurate. The offense was horrible, running backs, receivers, offensive line, and quarterback. Speaking of quarterbacks, Reusse had an article yesterday saying that the Vikings fans are either phonies or racists. I agree with him that the same people who boo Culpepper so lustily when he falters have been noticable silent, but I'm not sure it's racism that is the reason. For me, my expectation of Brad Johnson is much much lower than it is for Daunte. We've seen the great things Daunte can do, we don't expect as much from a backup with a weak arm and no mobility. I'm probably being too optimistic here, I'm sure there are plenty of fans who are phonies or racist when it comes to this topic. But I would hope that even they would understand that in a game like this one, a "healthy" quarterback with an extra dimension would have made the difference. Two touchdowns win this game...I believe Daunte would have got it done.

There certainly are naysayers who talk about how Daunte only flourishes when everything goes his way, and I can see where they are coming from. He hasn't led a lot of 4th quarter comebacks, but he's had to score 30+ points every game for most of his career due to the lack of a defense, and while he's a good quarterback, he's not Favre, he's not Elway, and he's not even Tom Brady. But a health Daunte, with a strong offensive line and a defense that's played like it has the second half of this season is a strong playoff team. It's just too bad we'll have to wait until next September to find out if that will all come together.

Anyway, my other big impression of the day being there in person was the number of Steelers fans in the crowd. There were more opponents fans in the stands on Sunday than any other game I have ever been to at Metrodome (outside of Twins/Yankees games where they seem to come out of the woodwork). There must have been some sort of Mall of America/Football Game package deal all these people bought. Or for some reason a lot of people here like the Steelers. More from Tice on the number of Steelers fans:

"It confuses me, I guess," Tice said. "Maybe they're not really diehard season-ticket holders or maybe they needed the money for Christmas presents. I don't know. One of the two."

Asked if the situation impacted the game, Tice said: "Look, when you go to some stadiums, it's so deafening that you can't hear. When you have 15 to 20 thousand of the opponent's fans in there, it's not deafening. There is a difference. The fans that were there were great. But it wasn't like a big game when it's just your guys in there.

"Maybe, in their defense, they sold the tickets when ... we were 2-5. Maybe they said, 'The heck with it, I'm not going to that.' Maybe that's the case. Or maybe Pittsburgh fans are just a little more diehard than our fans are."

Meanwhile, Tice was disappointed that Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher was able to watch a replay of a third-quarter catch by receiver Cedrick Wilson before deciding whether to challenge the spot. Cowher eventually challenged and the Steelers were awarded a first down.

The Metrodome's game-day operations staff handles video replays on the big screen. In many NFL stadiums, home teams control what replays are shown.

"We don't get any help at home on the video board at all," Tice said. "It's been something that I've been complaining about since I've been the head coach. ... Our marketing department has been working diligently. We tried to make it so simple to give them instruction: 'Look, if you think it's going to help us, show it. If you think it's going to hurt us, don't show it.' That's kind of how we've simplified it to."

That's another good point. What the f*** were they thinking showing that replay? As soon as they showed it I turned to Chelle and said, "He's (Cowher) going to challenge the spot, and they're going to get a first down". A couple minutes later after they brough out the chains, which I'm guessing Cowher requested to give his own booth guys a little more time to look at the play as well, he challenged and got the call. (which was the right call, and another example of the horrible officiating. if you saw the play, did you notice that the new spot was a full yard different than the original spot?)

So, looking ahead...first at the coaching position. Does Tice still have a job? Well, with the defensive turnaround we've seen, do you fire the head coach, bring in a new guy and tell him he's got to keep the defensive coordinator? While that does happen, it never works out well. \ I think the best and most probably plan would be to give Tice a two year extension, and if next year doesn't go well, you dump him and pay him for that last year. Considering the injuries and the off field distractions, this team has played very well, even if it has been only against below .500 teams. Who would have though that defensive play could save Tice's job?

As for the playoff chances. As I said last week, if the Vikings lose, you should probably root for a Chicago win and a Dallas loss (mostly because you can't count on the Bears losing to the Packers, which if you watched them on Monday night, you saw why...wow, just awful). Now the Vikings need a lot of help. Atlanta has Tampa Bay and Carolina left. Dallas has Carolina and St. Louis left. Washington has the Giants and Philly left.

I think all of those teams will lose at least one of those games. So the Vikings just need to beat Baltimore (and what are the odds of Boller having another good game this season? and Jamal Lewis rushing for over 100 yards?), and then beat the Bears at home. It's become a long shot, but just talking about as a possibility was a long shot just 7 weeks ago. I won't bother going into the tiebreaking details because the Vikings don't have much of an advantage there, especially if they lose to Chicago, which is the more likely loss in their final two games. Another NFC loss pretty much puts them below the other teams for conference record except for Atlanta, but they hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.

A couple extra thoughts on the game itself. Why was Kluwe punting? That big punt return that led to the only touchdown was directly his fault (he even admits it), but in reality, it's the coaches fault for putting in a guy who was ready when we had a backup punter on the active roster!!! That along with a few others were the key plays that lost the game for the Vikings.

The others: Brad's two interceptions in/near the goal line. Bad bad bad decisions. The blocked field goal. The terrible non-reversal of the Marcus Robinson TD catch.

Add two field goals and a TD there and suddenly it's a ballgame. What frustrates me most is that the Steelers were a beatable team that day, and nobody from the Vikings offense or special teams got it done.

I will be in New York for the last two games of the year, so I may not have an update next week, but will definitely have a year in review coming up in 2006. So, until then, have a Merry Christmas, Happy Haunakkah, Crazy Kwanzaa, and a Happy New Year.

- 12/20/2005

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