Sunday slant: McCown a painful purple memory

On the brink of facing Josh McCown for the third time, Kevin Williams remembers the unlikely play that knocked the Vikings out of the 2003 playoffs from the 4-12 Arizona Cardinals.

In a season of four collapses in the final two minutes of regulation for the Minnesota Vikings, none can top what Kevin Williams went through in the final game of his rookie season. The year: 2003.

Williams is the lone survivor from that Vikings squad. On Sunday, for the third time in his career, he will revisit Josh McCown. Williams remains a starter with the Vikings. McCown remains a survivor in the league, starting his journeyman status with the Cardinals in 2002 and having one of the biggest and most impactful upsets in Vikings history in his second season.

The starting defense for the Vikings on Dec. 28, 2003 was Kenny Mixon, Williams, Chris Hovan, Chuck Wiley, Henri Crockett, Greg Biekert, Nick Rogers, Brian Williams, Ken Irvin, Corey Chavous and Brian Russell.

The call that is remembered by radio play-by-play voice of the Vikings: "NO!"

The Vikings had a 17-12 lead with 1:54 to play, but the Arizona Cardinals recovered the onside kick. On the first play of the ensuing drive, Walker was called for pass interference, which gave the Cardinals 30 yards. It was the last play of the drive, however, that will live in Vikings infamy.

Williams was having a career day, wrangling McCown for sacks three times, including one in the final drive in which he split a double team and then beat Emmitt Smith to force third-and-14. McCown was hit on third down and fumbled, but the Cardinals recovered with 25 seconds remaining and no timeouts.

"I remember getting sacked the play before. I remember Emmitt Smith having the presence of mind to yell, ‘Josh, get up! Get up! We gotta go! We gotta go!' Then getting the play called and knowing this is probably going to be the last play so we need to buy time and let everyone get down to the end zone," McCown told "As a football fan, it's an exciting time to get to the playoffs, and it would be heartbreaking (for the Vikings). But it was fun for us to be a part of. It was tough for them because they were going to go to the playoffs."

McCown rose to his feet after being sacked in back-to-back plays on that final, fateful drive, refastened his chin strap and got into the shotgun formation. The ball was snapped with four seconds remaining. He stepped up in the pocket to avoid the deep outside rush and rolled to his right.

"We missed a sack. We had him and he got out of the play," Williams recalled on Friday. "I don't know if we knocked each other or what happened, but I know he got away from me and the guys and threw it up and we had that stupid force-out rule – or if the guy looked like he might have been in bounds."

When a stunt took Williams and the other defensive linemen out of the play, McCown rolled away from pressure and heaved a 30-yard pass into the end zone.

On fourth-and-25, Nathan Poole came down with it, and was forced out of bounds before he got his second foot inbounds.

Allen's call: "Caught! Touchdown! No! No! The Cardinals have knocked the Vikings out of the playoffs!"

That they did. The Vikings, at 9-7, lost their division title because of a loss a Cardinals team that ended up 4-12. The Green Bay Packers, watching after a decisive win over the Denver Broncos, were gifted back into the playoffs.

Green Bay faithful, ever the humble winners, gloated as publicly as they could. They invited Poole to their turf and gave him a key to the city.

"I was fairly new to it, but it was kind of ridiculous I thought," Williams recalled. "It got them the division and they got into the playoffs. … Green Bay got in and won the division. They got in the playoffs and we ended up (watching) at home that year."

McCown, of course, saw it differently.

"It was just something special to be a part of. It didn't mean necessarily anything for us other than just we were playing and competing and winning a game," McCown told "I think it spoke to the character and leadership of (soon-to-be-fired Dave) McGinnis and those coaches and the guys on that team, that we were two or three wins or whatever we had that season, that we were fighting and playing a team that all they had to do was beat us to get in the playoffs. I look back and I'm proud of that, proud of being part of something like that, that guys continued fighting."

McCown finished that game completing 20 of 33 passes for 224 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He was sacked eight times, three of them by Williams, but it wasn't enough. One desperate heave by a little-known quarterback-to-receiver combination ruined the Vikings' season. The fact that Green Bay was the giddy recipient of the Minnesota's misfortune was all the more stinging.

The Vikings started the season 6-0, but became just the second team in NFL history to start the season with six straight wins and miss the playoffs, joining the 1978 Washington Redskins.

Williams said he wouldn't even have remembered it was McCown, whom he faces Sunday again a decade later, until he was reminded of it last week.

"He gave me some sacks, but he won the game for them. I remember that. He was playing pretty good ball," Williams said.

But asked who forced Poole out of bounds on the touchdown with no time remaining and Williams was quick the correct call.

"Walker. It was Walker who gave him the force-out call and we lost," he said.

"All we had to do was win and we were in. (The Packers) ended up getting in off of that play."


Got bad vibes for the Vikings defense? You should. Here are three reasons why:

  • Jared Allen, in the final year of a contract with a 2013 salary-cap number of more than $17 million, is on pace for only seven sacks this season. It would be a career low for him and the only time since joining the Vikings in 2008 that he hasn't had double-digit sacks.

    "He's had some spurts along the way, but he hasn't had that two- or three-sack game that sometimes you've seen with him," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "Usually the second half of the season is really where he kicks it into overdrive. Up to this point, that hasn't happened, but we've still got a number of games left. He's more than capable of having a big game Sunday here at home."

  • The Vikings are allowing an average of 31.5 points per game, most in the NFL, and on a pace that would put them at 503 for the season. The most points allowed in franchise history is 484 by Les Steckel's team.

  • The Vikings' 26-26 tie with the Packers last Sunday was the first time the Packers hadn't lost in the 203 regular-season games they had trailed by 16 or more points in the fourth quarter, according the Elias Sports Bureau.

    Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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