In a game in which the Vikings defense was shredded by a 41-year-old quarterback who hadn't started a game in 23 months, there were several moments that put Sunday's loss out of the Vikings' grasp in San Diego. But it was a critical decision that created the turning point of the game — and it sits squarely on the large shoulders of coach Mike Tice.
Longtime readers of VU probably know a stat that has made the rounds over the last four seasons. Daunte Culpepper has NEVER been stuffed for no gain when the team has called a sneak on a third-and-1 or fourth-and-1 situation. Not once. Not ever. With his size and ability to push a pile in front of him, the call has become as automatic as you can get.
Yet, trailing by 14 points with a little more than 11 minutes to go, the Vikings were faced with a fourth-and-1 from their own 33-yard line. While it would have been a gutsy game-ending decision if the Vikings didn't convert, seeing as San Diego had scored touchdowns on five of seven drives in the game to that point, there was little reason to believe that if the Vikings punted the ball away the defense could stop the Chargers twice.
It was an instant decision Tice needed to make. As a numbers cruncher who loves to look at tendencies and success ratios, he must have known that Culpepper has been 100 percent — you get no better than that — in such situations. Instead, Tice opted to punt and hope that his defense could stop the Chargers — something that had been successful less than 30 percent of the game.
The result? The Vikings punted, San Diego got the ball and drove 73 yards in five plays, including passes of 26 and 32 yards and a 13-yard scramble by Doug Flutie to give the Chargers a 42-21 lead. It was clear that the Vikings defense wasn't going to be able to stop anything the Chargers were throwing at them. By going on fourth down, the Vikings still had a chance to pull within seven points with seven or eight minutes to play. Instead, the Vikings opted to punt, the Chargers burned the Vikings defense for a touchdown for the sixth time in eight drives and, in the process, created the turning point of the game.
Turning Point: Fourth-Quarter Decision
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