Munnerlyn penalty proves critical in loss

The Vikings were building momentum and in position for a comeback, but a critical third-down penalty turned the tide in one play.

Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn both put the onus on the mistake, not the call.

With 14 seconds left in the third quarter, the Vikings appeared to have the New Orleans Saints stopped when Munnerlyn sacked quarterback Drew Brees on third-and-13. The Saints would have been punting from their own 23-yard line with only a 13-9 lead and the Vikings slowly picking up momentum.

How quickly it was all snuffed out. In sacking Brees, Munnerlyn had the veteran quarterback in his grasp and flipped him over backwards and to the ground. Brees landed hard on his back, jumped to his feet to take exception to the tackle and Munnerlyn was flagged for unnecessary roughness.

“I think it was a pivotal point in the ballgame. We had just sacked him and they were going to punt the ball backed up. But it’s a penalty and you can’t do those things,” Zimmer said.

The Saints, with new life near midfield, took seven more plays, including two more third-down conversions, and scored an 18-yard touchdown from Brees to Marques Colston, giving them the final points of the game with 12:28 play.

“That was straight Hulk Hogan 1985 WrestleMania suplex,” Brees said of the sack. “It got us a 15-yard penalty and a new set of downs. It helped us go on a 90-yard touchdown drive and made it a two possession game and chew up a lot of clock.”

Just three minutes earlier, the Vikings trailed by four points and for a brief second thought there were going to get the ball back. One toss to the ground of the quarterback gave the Saints the break they needed to make it an 11-point game.

“I talked to Walt (Anderson, the referee) about it afterwards and he thought he threw him down,” Zimmer said. “I asked him if he blew the whistle when he was in the grasp and he said yes. Those guys are experts at what they do so I’m not going to worry about that.”

Zimmer said he would review the play on tape and may consider sending the play into NFL offices for review, but that isn’t going to change the call or the outcome of the game. And Zimmer wasn’t using the close call as an excuse.

“I thought we had good momentum going on. We were frustrating them a little bit offensively,” he said. “I think we would have had good field position. Who knows? But they were better than we were today.”

It was a tide-turning play in the game, for sure, but Zimmer pinned plenty of the blame for some of the defensive lapses on himself early when the Saints took the first two drives of the game for touchdowns, and also cited the mistakes the Vikings made in tackling and coverage.

“They changed a lot of things in what they did with some of their – that was probably my fault. I was going to trick them a little bit in the beginning of the game and they ended up changing so they caught us a little off-balance,” Zimmer said of the Saints driving 80 and 82 yards, respectively, on their first two drives for touchdowns.

“We didn’t play well. We didn’t tackle. We didn’t get off blocks. We didn’t do much in those first two drives. We left a guy open down the middle of the field. Even on the last touchdown, we should have had that one covered. The guys hung in there.”

He added: “I keep trying to talk to this football team about being a tough, physical, aggressive and smart team. Some of things we did today I think I we saw improvement. Obviously not enough in the smart categories and things like that. But that’s really what we’re trying to build – we can withstand a punch here and there and then we get a chance to throw some.”

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.

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