Jared Allen (Hannah Foslien/Getty)
The Vikings’ fate was pretty well sealed when the Broncos were inside the 5-yard late in the game, and letting them score would have given the Vikings another shot on offense. Players and coaches gave their thoughts on the potential strategy.
In the instant that Christian Ponder’s late-game pass was intercepted by Andre Goodman, a thought flashed across the minds of many in attendance at the Vikings-Broncos game – let them score.
It was a strange immediate impulse, but, if the Vikings had any realistic hope of winning Sunday’s game, they would have to do the unthinkable – intentionally let Denver score. There was 1:30 left in the game when Goodman got his hands on the ball. He was brought down on the Vikings 15-yard line with the score tied 32-32. The Vikings had all three timeouts at their disposal.
Jared Allen, who was watching from the sideline, said the same thought hit his mind when Goodman picked off the pass. The best chance the Vikings would have to win was is if Goodman took the pick into the end zone.
“I was thinking that when they picked it off,” Allen said. “You have a minute-twenty. Why not? As a competitor, it’s hard to let someone score. It really is. At the other side, you try to be strategic about it and maybe the only shot we have is to let them score and go down (offensively) and score. But, luckily for me, I don’t get paid to make that call. It’s the coach’s decision. I just play the defense that’s called and try to make tackles.”
That responsibility fell on Leslie Frazier. He went the conventional route, burning a timeout on first down, but, after Lance Ball took a carry for 11 yards and a first down, the prospect came up of allowing Denver to score on offense, save one timeout and hope for the best with 1:12 to go.
“We talked about it,” Frazier said. “But we have been in that situation where we blocked a kick. We tried to block it. There was like a minute to go when they got the first down and we decided not to do it.”
Instead, the Vikings opted to let the Broncos roll down the clock and take what was little more than an extra point attempt. It took away the chance of the Vikings offense trying to pull off a miracle drive, but Kevin Williams said he couldn’t see letting the Broncos score. Given his history of blocking kicks, he said a lot of things have to go right to make a field goal and it isn’t as easy or automatic as it would appear. Given the option, he would have gone down the road the Vikings did.
“I don’t know,” Williams said. “Me personally, I’m trying to stop them. Letting them score, that’s giving up to me. What’s the chance if you’re going down the field with less than a minute left. You might have a better chance (of the kicker) shanking the field goal (or) the snap. It’s three or four processes to getting that field goal off, so maybe one goes bad and he misses it.”
Whether the tactic the Vikings chose was in their best interest or not, it would seem they set their own fate allowing the Broncos to run down the clock and kick a short field goal. The jury remains out as to whether it was the right decision, but, considering how things turned out, how bad would it have been to let Ponder try to tie the game up in one minute or give Percy Harvin a chance to return a kickoff 108 yards? At 2-10, there really wasn’t that much more to lose.
As it currently stands, the Vikings are in line for a premium blue-chip draft pick. The Colts remain the clear frontrunner in the Suck for Luck Sweepstakes, but the Vikings are currently tied with St. Louis for the second-worst record in the NFL. If Jacksonville wins tonight, the Vikings and Rams will be two full games behind whoever would end up picking fourth in the draft.
On the flip side of the equation, the final four games heading into the playoffs got a lot crazier this weekend. Green Bay remained unbeaten with a last-minute drive to pull out a 38-35 win, while the 49ers and Saints both won to improve to 10-2 and 9-3, respectively. The only division still up for grabs in the NFC is the East, where all four teams lost in Week 13. The wild card should be nuts, with the Cowboys, Bears, Lions and Falcons all at 7-5 and the Giants at 6-6.
In the AFC, the battle is on for the two first-round byes. The Texans, Patriots, Ravens and Steelers are all 9-3 and the Broncos, Raiders, Bengals, Jets and Titans are all 7-5. Nobody has guaranteed anything – from a division title to a playoff spot – quite yet and the final four weeks are going to have a playoff feel because, like the NFC, there has been separation among the teams and there will be eight or nine teams in both conferences expected to be fighting for six spots.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for 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.