I think I see a pattern emerging. Second half of the first Packer game, second half of the Raider game and second half of the Falcons game. Three times the Vikings’ opponent left the door open for them and three times the Vikings failed to charge through. Sunday in Atlanta may have been the most frustrating of all these non-materializing comebacks. The Falcons, like the Raiders, went kind of conservative offensively, giving the Vikings’ under-manned defense a chance for stops. And on top of this the Vikings got several huge breaks that they ultimately failed to cash in.
One of these breaks came courtesy of the officiating with a little help from the Falcons’ coaching staff. Early in the fourth, with the Vikings down just 17-14 after their second TD of the second half, the Falcons’ Harry Douglas appeared to make a rolling catch for a first down, but the refs ruled it incomplete as Douglas was not able to control the ball all the way through the process. Replay may not have been definitive enough to overturn the ruling, but it was a moot point as Mike Smith elected not to throw the challenge flag. The Falcons were forced to punt, giving the ball back to Minnesota with a chance to take the lead.
So what did the Vikings do with their wonderful opportunity? Handed the ball to Toby Gerhart twice for a grand total of five yards then watched Christian Ponder fail to hook up with Devin Aromashodu on a third-and-five play, forcing them to punt it back. And when Atlanta got the ball again they decided to scrap the careful playcalling and go back to gashing the Vikings’ secondary as they had in the first half, the result being a seemingly game-sealing touchdown.
Oh but wait…the Vikings would catch one more break that gave them a glimmer of hope. Percy Harvin, the hero a couple of series before when he caught Christian Ponder’s 39-yard TD strike, took the kick-off deep in the end zone and ran it out, zipping past would-be tacklers and breaking into the open field. It looked like Harvin had a sure touchdown until Chris Owens caught him from behind, tackling him at the 3. Set up as they were only 3 yards from the goal line, the Vikings seemed sure to score again, cutting the deficit back down to 3. But this is the Vikings we’re talking about.
After a Christian Ponder bootleg play failed to yield a score, Bill Musgrave went to the ground game…a ground game that had failed to produce much all day, especially in short yardage situations. Percy Harvin ran it twice, and appeared to possibly break the plane with the ball on the second try, a fact that was evidently lost on the Vikings’ replay booth people as they failed to alert Leslie Frazier that he might want to challenge (it’s possible the refs blew the play dead before Percy’s last surge anyway, rendering the question of challenging irrelevant). Facing a fourth and goal from about the half-yard line Musgrave called on Toby Gerhart who, as we all remember, failed in a similar situation against Detroit, creating a whole controversy about Musgrave’s play calling. But yesterday was different as Musgrave didn’t have Adrian Peterson to call on instead of Toby. Of course Musgrave could’ve elected to pass, or Frazier could’ve elected to kick the field goal and put the game in the hands of his defense, something he has been reluctant to do (as we remember from the first Packer game when he went for it instead of punting). In the end Toby got the ball, and was predictably stopped short of the goal line, ending the Vikings’ chances of a miracle comeback.
The Vikings’ two blown fourth quarter opportunities had one thing in common: Play calling that placed too much faith in a punch-less, Adrian Peterson-less ground game, and not enough faith in Christian Ponder. For Bill Musgrave to go to Gerhart just a series after watching Ponder and Harvin hook up for a long TD strike defies explanation. At that point it should’ve been obvious that the ground game wasn’t getting it done, but Ponder and Harvin were.
I don’t get coming out with two straight runs to Gerhart after catching the break on the Douglas non-catch; that decision irritates me as much as the decision to hand it to Gerhart on fourth-and-goal later. Musgrave just doesn’t seem to trust his quarterback, and that doesn’t make any sense at all. Ponder may still be prone to the occasional rookie mistake, but he’s also shown a knack for making plays, and after two spectacular long strikes to Harvin, it sure looked like those two younguns had something going that might help pull out a win. Why not just let the ball fly? What did the Vikings have on the line? Nothing. Musgrave needs to grow a pair of balls as bad as he needs to get some sun. I had no issue with Frazier electing to go for the TD instead of the field goal after Harvin’s kick return, but Musgrave has to figure out a better plan for making that happen than three straight runs behind a line that has already proven itself incapable of getting push on short yardage. Did Musgrave learn nothing from the Detroit game? It’s a 2-9 team Bill. Just throw the damn ball and if you lose, you lose.