Once again, a game-ending sack killed the Minnesota Vikings’ hopes of completing a comeback against a playoff team on the road.
In a Week 4 loss to the Denver Broncos, who are 10-2 and projected for a first-round bye in the playoffs, the Vikings had a chance on the road. When Brandon McManus hit a 29-yard field goal to give Denver a 23-20 lead with 1:51 left to play, Teddy Bridgewater and the Vikings offense started a drive that could have given them a win or forced overtime. They approached midfield, but facing second-and-10 from their own 47-yard line, Bridgewater was sacked by safety T.J. Ward and the Broncos recovered to seal the win.
On Thursday night, the Cardinals, who clinched a playoff berth with their 23-20 over Minnesota, took a 23-20 lead with 1:23 left in regulation. Once again, Bridgewater was driving the Vikings on their final series. This time, they were in field goal range at the Denver 31-yard line and facing third-and-10. Bridgewater dropped to pass, but as he was cocking his arm to throw, Dwight Freeney stripped the ball and Arizona recovered to seal that win.
This time, the play-calling came under question. Bridgewater said he was waiting for the receivers to cross the field from the left and get near the sideline, but he felt the pressure and was trying to the throw the ball away to set up the fourth-down field goal try.
“No, it’s not a good play … I did not like that play,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer told KFAN-FM 100.3 on Friday, according to host Dan Barrerio.
But when asked about it short time later in his day-after press conference, Zimmer softened his stance.
“It’s a play that we practice every week for a situation like that. They had more people rushing in that particular play than normally when that happens,” Zimmer said (the Cardinals rushed only four). “That was a little bit different. And then we got beat. In retrospect we probably could have called something else or we could have kicked the field goal.”
Zimmer said he didn’t consider running the ball on second down to try to gain a few extra yards and then spike it on third down, which they would have had time to do, according to Zimmer’s calculations.
“We’ve studied that situation many times. To clock the ball in bounds, it’s approximately 12 to 14 seconds, so we were right on the verge so I didn’t feel like there was any way we throw the ball in bounds and still get another play off,” he said of the third-down call.
However, the Vikings could have done that on second down, which started with 18 seconds left.
Instead, Bridgewater threw two incompletions on first and second down, the second one throwing it out of bounds when he couldn’t find anyone open. But the slow-developing third-down play that resulted in the sack and fumble garnered the most attention.
“We were trying to get a little closer, a play designed to get to the sideline,” Zimmer said. “Actually, the play before was a very similar play. There was 18 seconds left on the clock. We had time to clock it at that point, but we tried to get the ball to the sideline and it wasn’t there and he threw it out of bounds and it took five seconds. I felt good about that, and if we didn’t get it I thought we could try the field goal from there and take a shot.”
Instead, the turnover allowed the Cardinals to kneel once and take a 23-20 win.
“If I knew that was going to happen I probably would have done something different,” Zimmer said. “I thought about kicking the field goal with the 13 seconds left on the clock. If we missed the field goal, I’m wrong – we should have got closer. I did the best that I thought we could at that particular time.”