Leslie Frazier (Otto Greule Jr/Getty)
Leslie Frazier took the blame for being too aggressive, but a fourth-down play wasn’t blocked up right, either, and the failure to challenge the previous play may have been just as costly. Either way, the Vikings didn’t get it right on the biggest play of the game.
Faced with a critical play in a game that meant nothing to the Vikings’ already-evaporated playoff hopes, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier opted for the aggressive call. When it failed, he took responsibility for the decision and called it a mistake.
The Vikings were trailing 24-14 with 6:40 left in the fourth quarter when Percy Harvin returned a kickoff 104 yards to the Atlanta 3-yard line. When rookie QB Christian Ponder took a 2-yard sack on the first play, Minnesota turned its attention to the ground game.
Harvin took two straight carries for a combined four yards and got to the 1-yard line before Frazier gambled in an attempt to get the touchdown. Instead, a pulling Joe Berger and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe both blocked inside, allowing linebacker Sean Weatherspoon to run free and bring down running back Toby Gerhart for a 2-yard loss on fourth down, essentially sealing the game as the Falcons picked up the necessary two first downs to run out the clock and seal a 10-point win.
“We get that fourth-and-1 late and I decided I was going to go for it, thinking that (if) we get this score, the next time we get the ball back we might be going to win the game. Instead, it really went the other way and that’s purely on me. Just a bad mistake on my part putting us in that position,” Frazier said. “The guys, they battled. They battled to the very end. Just got to be smarter on my part in that situation and not put us in that situation, not let my emotions get in the way when we have to get in the game the way they fought to get in the game.”
Frazier has taken the aggressive approach in the past and it has backfired in more meaningful games. In the Vikings’ third game of the season, when they still believed they were a playoff contender and had a 20-17 lead against the Detroit Lions, Frazier also decided to go for a first down on fourth-and-1 instead of extending a fourth-quarter lead to six points on what would have been about a 35-yard field goal attempt. In that instance, the Vikings had the option of giving it to Adrian Peterson – he was out of Sunday’s game against the Falcons with an ankle injury – but Gerhart was brought down for no gain, the Lions tied the game on their next possession and won on their first possession in overtime.
In Atlanta on Sunday, Frazier wanted to, as he put it, go for the win, hoping Gerhart would get the touchdown, his defense would hold and his offense would be able to score another touchdown.
“Just the fact that we were at the 1 (-yard line) and just believing that we could get that one yard. I really thought that we could and then when we get the ball back we’d be going to win the game rather than trying to tie the game,” Frazier said. “Just didn’t work out that way. Something you’ve got to learn from personally.”
Entering the game with a 2-8 record, Frazier’s decision wasn’t going to impact a playoff chance, but he wanted to maintain an aggressive approach and a belief in his players.
“Just trying to be aggressive, just trying to win the game, have a win-the-game attitude. That was my attitude,” he said. “I wanted to win the game and get a touchdown there and come back and win the game. But it didn’t work out.”
It might have worked if it had been blocked up, but when Shiancoe and Berger both went to block inside (Shiancoe realized too late that Weatherspoon had a free shot at Gerhart), that chance quickly vanished.
“We felt like we had people blocked based on where the play was going. They did a good job of standing up and making a play,” Frazier said. “We have enough people to block that backer if we execute the play. But they were able to make a play.”
Ponder also thought the play had a chance, despite the Falcons’ aggressive approach to the fourth-and-1 play.
“They went Cover-0 and had guys stacked in the box,” Ponder said. “I figured that the way Toby was running all game and the three runs we had before with Percy, I thought we had playmakers in the backfield. I had full confidence that we were going to punch that in. Atlanta has got a good defense and they stopped us. I don’t know who it was, but hats off to them for making the play.”
The Vikings actually might have had a touchdown on the previous run by Harvin. Starting at the 2-yard line, he took a handoff up the middle and gained a yard before running into traffic in a congested middle of the formation, but he appeared to extend the ball over the goal line before he was down. The officials marked the ball at the 1-yard line, but Frazier said he never heard from his assistants in the booth that he should challenge the play.
“From my vantage point, I couldn’t see it well enough to say he was in or out, and nothing was coming from upstairs to say he was close enough to challenge it. There was no dialogue on that,” Frazier said. “If there were, if he were close, we would have challenged it if we thought he had gotten in. But we didn’t have any dialogue, so I’m not sure if they didn’t show the picture or what may have happened but there was no dialogue regarding that.”
Ponder said he couldn’t tell if Harvin was in, either, but he also said others in the Vikings contingent were talking after the game about Harvin possibly scoring on that play. Since it didn’t happen in the final two minutes of a half, Frazier would have had to challenge the spot to have the play reviewed.
“The loss, I told our players after the game, that’s more on me. They did everything I asked them to do this week in their preparation,” Frazier said. “They came back out in the second after we talked about what adjustments we need to put ourselves in position to win the game in the fourth quarter.”
As it turned out, they were closing in on that position, but were instead dropped for a loss.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.