The Minnesota Vikings won a hard-fought game over the St. Louis Rams Sunday by a score of 21-18, but the joy was tempered following the game because the few players who were around in 2009 remember what a Gregg Williams-coached defense is willing to do in order to get a starting quarterback out of a game.
In 2009, Williams was the defensive coordinator in New Orleans. During their Super Bowl run, the Saints played against the Arizona Cardinals and Vikings in their two games to go to the Super Bowl. In what was later learned to be a bounty made by Williams to his players for hits that hurt veterans Kurt Warner and Brett Favre blew up in the faces of the Saints organization and both head coach Sean Payton and Williams got suspended from the game for a year.
It would seem that, even after paying for his crime, the rotten apple hasn’t fallen very far from the tree. Williams is still a thug and a bully at heart who, in reality, is a coward who sends young men on the field to do his dirty work for him.
Williams has a history of his players becoming goons when a big win is on the line. As far back as 2006 when he was with the Redskins, Williams was building a history of training his players in such a way that when a knockout shot is available, you take it. A 15-yard penalty is well worth getting a Hall of Famer like Favre or Warner out of the game. Former Colts head coach Tony Dungy said he believes the start of the neck injuries that have plagued the recent portion of Peyton Manning’s career can be traced back to playing against Williams and the Redskins and Manning being subject to cheap shots.
With the game on the line Sunday and the Rams needing to neutralize Teddy Bridgewater, it would seem that the players under Williams’ charge took approaches strikingly familiar to what Williams protégés from his previous coaching stints did. They took cheap shots to get the job done for The Boss.
Almost all of the focus after the game was centered on the cheap shot delivered by cornerback Lamarcus Joyner on Bridgewater. We’ll get to that. But what seemingly got lost in the shuffle was an equally egregious hit on the previous drive. Bridgewater was rolling out of the pocket to throw and as he let the ball go, he turned away from defensive end William Hayes.
Hayes went after Bridgewater’s knees. The admission of guilt came when he immediately pulled his hands back in the “I give up” pose – subconsciously realizing he had taken a cheap shot at a defenseless quarterback’s knees. Bridgewater was out of the pocket, so going low on a quarterback isn’t technically a penalty. Going late is still in play, but no penalty was called from the officiating crew that earlier in the game initially ruled pass defensive pass interference in the end zone on Rams, then conferenced and turned it into offensive pass interference that allowed an interception.
On the drive after Hayes’ questionable dive, Joyner knocked Bridgewater out. Given past history, if he gets a big fine from the league, maybe he earns some of it back from the Williams party for mission accomplished.
The Rams had a lot to lose late in Sunday’s game. A win would have improved them to 5-3 and possession of a wild card spot with a head-to-head win over what would have been the 5-3 Vikings. Williams needed fourth-quarter stops to give the Rams offense a chance to score the game’s winning points. A loss would leave them two games behind the Vikings in the playoff standings with a loss in hand.
It was a recipe for the recidivist Williams to revert to form – like a rabid skunk.
The Joyner hit was visual evidence of the coaching style that is inherent with Williams. Following the game, Joyner protested his innocence, saying that it was “bang-bang play.” The beauty of replay is that it can break down video frame by frame. Simply, the way Joyner hit Bridgewater tells the story.
If Joyner was trying to tackle a running Bridgewater, would his striking point be about 12 inches off the ground? That is a textbook way to miss tackles if a player is upright. Bridgewater saw him coming and likely would have had time to jump over him to avoid the ankle shot he may have been trying to deliver.
Don’t believe that explanation. He saw Bridgewater sliding and instinctively (perhaps through teaching), saw his chance to deliver the shot. Not only did he do it, he threw a shoulder into Bridgewater while sideways heading on a collision course.
Watch the video again. It doesn’t lie. People do.
Zimmer thought the Rams – Joyner in particular and Williams by association – crossed a line Sunday. He didn’t elaborate, but agreed with a question asking if the hit was a cheap shot. So did just about every Vikings player willing to address the question following the game.
While Zimmer didn’t provide an indictment of Joyner or Hayes, he did make it clear that the culture that exists in a Williams defense has always and apparently will always be a “by any means necessary” design to injure starting quarterbacks.
Asked about the sideline emotions of the players following the hit, Zimmer said Williams would likely have had a full-blown fight on his hands if there wasn’t a critical football game on the line.
“I would say if we were out on the street, we probably would have had a fight,” Zimmer said.
In his defense, Joyner cited that he lived just across the railroad tracks from Bridgewater, as if that means anything at this level of football when futures, legacies and wealth are at stake. You don’t have childhood loyalties when it’s professional Hatfields and McCoys against 31 other organizations.
But he was as sympathetic as a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
“It was a bang-bang play,” Joyner said. “He’s a taller stature guy compared to me. I didn’t know he was fixing to slide. When I launched, he slid and we connected. If I could take it back, personally, I will take it back because I’m not a dirty player. I wouldn’t take joy from his mom or his team. So, was it intentional? Not at all. I can’t fix the problem with what’s going on and how they feel, but how I feel inside isn’t good.”
Vikings players had a different reaction, especially his offensive linemen. Matt Kalil had about as good a view of it as anyone from his left tackle spot when Bridgewater took off. He knew it was wrong when he saw it. That was only reaffirmed when a flag was thrown. It turned to outrage when he saw the replay on the Jumbotron.
“We were all pretty mad about it,” Kalil said. “You saw the play. It was clear that Teddy was sliding and giving himself up. From my angle, it looked like (Joyner) intentionally lowered his shoulder at Teddy’s head and it ricocheted off the turf. There’s no place for hits like that in the game. I thought it was a dirty hit.”
Guard Brandon Fusco wasn’t much farther away. He saw much the same and smelled what was happening, especially coming on the heels of the Hayes play that stunk of vintage Williams.
“There is a way to play physical football and there is a way to take cheap shots on the field,” Fusco said. “That was a dirty hit. You never want to see plays like that because you don’t want to see somebody get intentionally hurt.
Joyner is a slot corner by trade. That’s the same position Captain Munnerlyn plays. Munnerlyn went diplomatic in answering allegations of thuggery, but made it clear that he’s convinced it was a cheap shot.
Mr. Joyner will likely find a Fed-Ex envelope in his locker Wednesday or Thursday. It may have some really bad news inside, like a game-check’s worth.
“I’m sure he’ll hear from the league about it,” Munnerlyn said. “Teddy clearly gave himself up and he’s still trying to go with the tackle. I try not to read into too much, but he hurt our quarterback, so I don’t know how to look at it as that.”
If there is any justice, the NFL league office will take a long, hard look at Williams. The list of grievances against Williams is voluminous. If the league office still keeps paper on file, they have a file cabinet filled with discussions of Williams atrocities. With any luck, they may dust off those files because career criminals are career criminals for a reason.
It’s all they know. It’s what they do.
Let’s be realistic. Football is a violent game in which certain hits are legal and certain ones are out of bounds and, if you’re associated with too many of the bad ones, the light gets shined on you.
The NFL was convinced to a moral certainty that Williams was guilty of promoting a style in which quarterbacks are due cheap shots. He was banished from the league for it.
He got a second chance.
It would appear he didn’t learn anything from his first stretch in the NFL penitentiary. Maybe it’s time he goes back and sees if that straightens him up, because it sure looks like he didn’t learn anything from his first run-in with the laws of the NFL. Or, maybe he just can’t help himself. That’s the M.O. of all recidivists.