Monday, October 20, 2008

41 not quite enough

Well, at least you can't blame that one on the coaching.

Notable for its high scoring and surprisingly good play-calling from Brad Childress, the Vikings lost to the Bears 48-41 yesterday in a game riddled with miscues and gaffes in all three phases of the game: offense, defense, and special teams. And when you lose out in all three of those categories, it's awfully tough to win.

Yet even behind by 17 early in the fourth quarter, I had a feeling the Vikings could still pull this one out, and they nearly did. But this game was sabotaged by a number of fluke plays and bad decisions by the players, rather than the coaching staff:

* Gus Frerotte threw four interceptions, and three of them were Tarvaris-Jackson-ugly. The fourth, a long pass down the sideline that was a bit underthrown, wasn't the worst thing you could do, but in the end four picks are four picks.

* Poor Chris Kluwe. Two weeks after being publicly ripped by his head coach, he botched the snap and then (illegally) kicked it straight to the Bears' Garrett Wolfe, who scampered 24 yards for the touchdown. It was Kluwe's first blocked punt ever in the NFL.

* Honestly, I'm not sure what to make of the Charles Gordon play. On the one hand, you always see punt returners try to block off opposing players after the fair catch signal so they can't down the ball. On the other hand, the punt was near enough to the sideline that it probably wouldn't have mattered one way or the other. On the third hand, it was ridiculously unlucky that the bouncing ball should hit Gordon's outstretched arm. On the fourth hand (we're getting into Indian goddess territory here), when you plan not to catch the punt, you should run to the next county if you have to. I'm really just willing to chalk this one up to awful, awful luck.

* The Marty Booker 51-yard touchdown was unconscionable. You can't let a guy run through your whole defense like that.

* When the Bears did try to hand us an opportunity, we couldn't cash in. We recovered a Kyle Orton fumble around midfield but failed to convert on the opportunity. And that Desmond Clark fumble at the goal line could have either rolled out of bounds through the end zone or been recovered by a Viking. Instead, a Bear player jumped on it for the six points.

Yet even for all that went wrong in the game, a fair number of things went well.

* I commented on the play calling earlier, and was amazed that, in almost every situation when I said, "Well, they should do X here, but they probably won't" -- where "X" was "go for it on fourth down" or "kick a field goal" or "run the ball" -- they made the seemingly right call. My only beef was with not kicking off deep to Devin Hester (when he was still in the game). Instead, they gave the Bears good field position several times, and they converted that advantage into points. The one time they did kick deep to Hester, before he left the game with an injury, he managed just a mediocre 20-yard return.

* The run-pass balance was good, despite the team attempting 42 passes to 32 runs. Going into the fourth quarter, the mix was 27 runs to 21 passes, but when you're down by 17, you have to air out out.

* The ugly 48 on the opposing scoreboard might not indicate it, but the defense played surprisingly well, giving up just 327 yards. Only two of the Bears' touchdown drives went for longer than 55 yards, and three of their six touchdowns on the day were the result of special teams plays and a six-yard "drive" following a Gus Frerotte interception.

* Another blocked field goal? Cool, but couldn't you have deflected this one to Antoine Winfield like the last time? I know, picky, picky, picky...

When all is said and done, I really don't have any choice but to chalk this one up to a series of fluke plays that, nine times out of 10, don't happen. Then again, considering how we "stole" our last two wins, it seemed inevitable that we would lose a crazy one. I won't be voting down Chilly this week -- I'll abstain instead and see if he can head into the bye week with a game plan that is similar to the blueprint he used against the Bears, minus the crazy mistakes.

But hey, if we could score 41 when our offense commits five turnovers and has a blocked punt returned for a TD, imagine what we could do without those?

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