As if seeing his team tie for the worst start in franchise history weren’t bad enough, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier also is facing harsh criticism for hurting the team by not throwing his challenge flag on a play that could have meant the difference between winning and losing Sunday’s game in Atlanta.
Replays showed an apparent touchdown when Percy Harvin extended the ball across the goal line on a third-and-goal play from the 2-yard line with the Vikings trailing 24-14 win about five minutes left. At the very least, the play should have been challenged.
Frazier was asked Monday to explain the team’s line of communication when it comes to making quick decisions on whether to challenge calls.
“We have a couple of coaches who are reviewing replay upstairs,” Frazier said. “They’ll point something out to me if they think it’s something we need to challenge. We got to review our communication based on that play alone. We really got to review that going forward. Seeing the play and realizing that there was a chance to maybe get a challenge in there is something that we have to relook at it how we’re communicating between myself and the guys upstairs.”
Close examination of the replay showed that Harvin broke the plane of the goal line on second effort. It’s possible that a replay official would have ruled that his forward progress had been stopped, but the Vikings will never know because the coaches never even discussed whether to throw the challenge flag.
“We really didn’t get into it,” Frazier said. “We were talking about the series and the next play and whether or not we wanted to go for it if we got to that point. But all that communication is so crucial, as we all know in that situation, especially if there is a chance to maybe review the play.”
The Vikings turned the ball over on downs a play later and never got the ball back. They fell to 2-9 for the first time since their expansion season in 1961.
NFL Team Report – Minnesota Vikings – NOTES, QUOTES
–Jared Allen is better known as the multiple All-Pro defensive end with the league-high 96.5 sacks since 2004. But on Sunday in Atlanta, one of his lesser-known talents was thrust into the spotlight when long snapper Cullen Loeffler suffered a fractured bone in his lower back covering the team’s third punt.
Allen, who actually was drafted by the Chiefs as a long snapper out of Idaho State, took over and had no problem whatsoever with four snaps on punts and two on extra points. He even made the tackle after his first punt snap, although it did come after he had missed a tackle about 35 yards downfield.
Loeffler has played in the past 129 games, including playoffs. Until Sunday, he had handled every special teams snap since making the team as an undrafted free agent in 2004.
Allen handled the practice snaps two weeks ago when Loeffler was sidelined because of a rotator cuff injury, but Allen didn’t snap at all during the practices leading up to the Falcons game.
“What am I going to do, pout?” Allen said when asked about having to handle the snapping and run down the field in coverage. “I mean, I’m playing football for a living. I mean, I could be unemployed. Hey, at 2-9, we might be unemployed soon. They might fire somebody. And it might be me. Hey, you have to have fun with it. This is still a game.”
–You know it’s a season that wasn’t meant to be when you lose your long snapper to injury.
“I’ve been really fortunate in my career; seven years and never even in the training room,” Loeffler said, “but it’s been a long year.”
Loeffler fractured his sacrum, a bone at the base of the spine. He’ll be out a minimum of two weeks and could miss the final five weeks of the season altogether. This comes two weeks after he injured his right rotator cuff and missed most of the next week’s practices.
“You know what they say,” Loeffler said. “When it rains, it pours.”
NFL Team Report – Minnesota Vikings – STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
–RB Adrian Peterson, who missed Sunday’s game because of a high left ankle sprain, is doing better. He might play Sunday against the Broncos.
–FS Husain Abdullah, who sat out his second consecutive game because of a concussion, will be evaluated later in the week. It’s possible the Vikings will opt to rest him while they evaluate rookie Mistral Raymond.
–CB Asher Allen sprained the AC joint in his left shoulder. He’ll be day-to-day this week, and his status will depend on how much pain he can tolerate.
–FS Tyrell Johnson suffered what coach Leslie Frazier called a significant hamstring injury. Johnson could end up missing the rest of the season.
–WR Michael Jenkins has a knee injury that could cause him to miss time. The Vikings won’t know more about him until Wednesday.
REPORT CARD VS. FALCONS
PASSING OFFENSE: B — About the only thing positive to come out of this season is the fact rookie quarterback Christian Ponder has the resiliency to play the most important position in the NFL. After a sluggish first half in which theVikings fell behind 17-0, Ponder again showed that he doesn’t dwell on what’s already happened in a game. In the best third quarter the team has had this season, Ponder directed a 14-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. He converted three of three third downs, including a 20-yard pass to Percy Harvin on third-and-10 from the Falcons’ 21-yard line. Later, Ponder threw a perfect strike into the back of the end zone, splitting two defenders on a 39-yard touchdown to Harvin on fourth-and-13. Ponder finished with only 186 yards passing, but he had his best completion percentage (68.0) and his best passer rating (103.1) of the season. He also didn’t throw an interception.
RUSHING OFFENSE: F — With Adrian Peterson out because of a high left ankle sprain, the Vikings had their worst rushing average (2.7 yards per carry) of the season. Toby Gerhart made his third NFL start and ran hard, but he basically got nowhere. He was stopped for no gain on six of his 17 carries and lost 2 yards on fourth-and-goal from the Falcons’ 1-yard line late in the game. Gerhart finished with just 44 of the team’s 64 rushing yards. The Vikingsran three consecutive times up the middle from inside the Falcons’ 6-yard line before turning the ball over on downs.
PASS DEFENSE: D — The Vikings held Matt Ryan under 300 yards for the first time in three games, but Ryan also had season highs for completion percentage (78.4) and passer rating (128.2). Ryan also threw three touchdown passes and no interceptions. An already depleted Vikings secondary got even thinner in the first half when left cornerback Asher Allen (shoulder) and free safety Tyrell Johnson (hamstring) went out for the rest of the game. That forced nickel back Benny Sapp to move outside and rookie Mistral Raymond to come in at free safety. Sapp, who was out of work two weeks ago, became the fourth left corner this season. Raymond, a sixth-round draft pick, became the third free safety. Missed tackles throughout the back seven also hurt the Vikings. Middle linebacker E.J. Henderson missed a tackle at the 15-yard line on Harry Douglas’ 27-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter.
RUSH DEFENSE: C-minus — The two halves were completely different in this area. Before halftime, Atlanta shoved the Vikings up and down the field with running back Michael Turner gashing the interior of the defense. But to their credit, the Vikings didn’t stop fighting after trailing 17-0 at halftime. The run defense played harder and plugged more holes while holding the Falcons to 28 total yards and just one first down in the third quarter. It was the first time this season that the Vikings outscored an opponent (7-0) in the third quarter.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B — Overall, the Vikings had one of their best special teams outings in a while. Of course, that’s not saying much since they’ve been putting up some embarrassing performances of late. Harvin returned a kickoff 104 yards to the Atlanta 3. It came immediately after the Falcons went ahead by 10 points with 6:40 left in the game. Harvin was caught from behind by Chris Owen, and the Vikings never did reach the end zone. Perhaps even more notable than Harvin’s return was the fact Jared Allen, a multiple All-Pro selection at defensive end, stepped in for long snapper Cullen Loeffler, who injured his lower back. Allen, who was a long snapper in college, delivered crisp snaps on six punts and two PATs. Chris Kluwe averaged 47.3 yards with a 39.6-yard net on seven punts.
COACHING: D — The coaching staff deserves some credit for making some halftime adjustments that prevented the game from becoming a blowout. But the fact remains the Vikings were ill-prepared and were manhandled while being outscored 17-0 in the first half. Also, the play selection during the Falcons’ pivotal goal-line stand was way too conservative, especially for a team with a below-average line that wasn’t controlling the line of scrimmage. Even offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said afterward that he wishes he had called a bootleg play rather than attempt a third consecutive dive play. Harvin, who is powerful beyond his 184 pounds, was stopped short of the goal line twice. When Gerhart replaced him, the Falcons knew what was coming. Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon knifed in from the left side of the offense and dropped Gerhart for a 2-yard loss. Right guard Joe Berger was supposed to pull and kick Weatherspoon out, but even if Berger had attempted to do so, Weatherspoon was in the backfield too quickly. It was a play that had no chance against what the Falcons called. Also, replays showed that Harvin might have scored on his second run up the middle. The Vikings’ coaching staff didn’t see the replay or didn’t react quickly enough to challenge the call.