Mike Priefer was hit with the question immediately when he stepped to the podium and the special teams coordinator took full responsibility for calling the kick that allowed the Baltimore Ravens a quick score last Sunday in a 29-26 Vikings loss.
The Vikings had just taken a 19-15 lead when Priefer decided to change things up with their approach to kick returner Jacoby Jones, whom Priefer praised in the week leading up to the game. Instead of kicking it deep to Jones, Priefer had Blair Walsh use a “mortar kick,” one that pops up short and usually isn’t fielded by the deep man.
Jones apparently saw it coming and moved up before the kick, fielded it at his 23-yard line and returned it down the sideline 77 yards for a touchdown to allow the Ravens to retake the lead, 22-19, with 1:16 to play.
“We decided to kick the mortar kick, try to slow him down a little bit. They read it perfectly. They did a good job. I got outcoached on that play, unfortunately,” Priefer said. “We didn’t execute it well enough. We had guys over there. We had, I think, two of them got pinned inside. He hit that seam full speed. It was not a very good call on my part, and it was not schemed up well on my part. I’ve got to give credit to them. They did a nice job, and got the ball in their best playmaker’s hands.”
Priefer said it was a similar alignment they had used on short kicks to Chicago’s Devin Hester earlier in the year, saying they have used it three or four times in 2013 – “which we won’t use anymore.”
He said a shorter approach to the ball may have tipped it off to Jones.
“Usually, we break the huddle and go, but they saw Blair up close … the front-line guys were moving up, and they had already made their adjustment, which was well-done by them,” Priefer said.
There are other options to try and avoid an explosive returner like Jones or Hester getting his hands on the ball. Priefer said they have a liner, squib, mortar, bloop, and deep kicks to different areas of the field. A deep kick likely wasn’t going to work because of the weather conditions. With a mixture of snow and sleet most of the afternoon in Baltimore and wind chills in the 20s, only one of nine kickoffs during the game went for a touchback.
But, ultimately, Priefer blamed himself for making the call to kick it short.
“The one thing I was concerned about is that we had kicked one out of bounds the play before, the kickoff before,” Priefer said.
“We could’ve put it on the ground again, but I wasn’t sure. I got a little nervous. I didn’t want to give them the ball at the 40-yard line.”
COLE LEARNING ON THE FLY
Jones’ touchdown wasn’t the last of the day for either team. After he scored with 1:16 left in regulation, the Vikings responded with a 79-yard touchdown pass to Cordarrelle Patterson to give them a 26-22 lead with 45 seconds to play.
But, as has happened often to the Vikings, the defense gave up too much on the Ravens’ final drive of the game, assisted by a questionable pass interference call. Eventually, Baltimore scored on a 9-yard touchdown pass to Marlon Brown in the back of the end zone behind middle linebacker Audie Cole.
Defensive coordinator Alan Williams said Cole, making his third start, needed to start a little bit deeper on the game-winning play.
“Guys were close to the play where they just didn’t make the play. So in past week’s it may have been not necessarily executing the defense or being out of place, not where we’re supposed to be,” Williams said. “Two plays Audie was close, but not close enough and I think that comes from experience knowing that, hey, if they catch it in front of you, no big deal, don’t give up one over the top, and just more so that and experience than anything else.”
The Vikings didn’t have any changes to their injury report from Wednesday. RB Adrian Peterson (groin/foot), RB Toby Gerhart (hamstring), TE John Carlson (concussion), G Brandon Fusco (knee) and CBs Xavier Rhodes (ankle) and Josh Robinson (chest) all didn’t practice.
Carlson hasn’t passed is post-concussion protocol yet, making him unlikely to play Sunday, and head coach Leslie Frazier didn’t sound too optimistic about Rhodes being to play. Frazier was hoping to have Brandon Fusco test his knee in practice on Friday, calling Friday a “big day” for Peterson and Gerhart.
“In Adrian’s case, being able to see him cut, plant, just put some weight on that foot, being able to do the things that you kind of want to see him do in a ballgame. See if he’s inhibited at all,” Frazier said. “With Toby, to see if he can burst a little bit with a hamstring. Hopefully we can find that out tomorrow.”
Peterson has only done work in the pool this week, so Friday will be his first workout on dry land with his mid-foot sprain.
Gerhart sounds like he is closer to being able to play than Peterson.
Robinson isn’t expected to return to practice until next week and isn’t expected to play Sunday.
LB Larry Dean (knee) was limited again on Thursday.
The Eagles’ injury report didn’t change much, with the exception of adding CB Cary Williams (hamstring) to the report as limited in Thursday’s practice, joining LB Najee Good (hamstring) and S Earl Wolff (knee).
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.