Fourth-Down Call Gives Vikes Early Confidence

On back-to-back series for the Lions, then Vikings, the head coaches of each team sent their players a message. One good, one bad.

Sometimes a game can hinge on the mental makeup of its coach. Teams are a reflection of their coach and, regardless of how the team is doing, the coach sets the tone. Dennis Green and Marty Mornhinweg showed their contrasting styles in turning Sunday's game around.

Both coaches were faced with a similar situation and it came down to which coach had the fortitude to pull the trigger and take a chance at trying to turn his team's season around. As it turned out, Green had the guts and got the glory.

The opportunities came just minutes apart in the final four minutes of the first quarter. The Vikings had scored on the opening drive and the Lions were looking for the answer to that score. They thought they had it when Germane Crowell was credited with a touchdown on a sideline pass, but replays clearly showed he stepped out on the 1-yard line. The Vikings challenged the call and the ball was placed on the 1, setting up a third-and-goal from three feet away. James Stewart, who had run four times for 42 yards on the drive, took a handoff up the middle and was stuffed for no gain.

For an 0-3 team with just one offensive TD, a chance to get a touchdown on the board was a must and, with less than a yard to go, Mornhinweg needed to show he had faith in his team. Instead, he settled for a field goal.

Rarely does a decision like that get a counter decision as quickly as happened Sunday. On the next drive, it looked as though the Vikings were going three-and-out. The Vikes had been stuffed and were stuck with a fourth-and-6 from their own 49-yard line. Mitch Berger punted, but an offiside call on Detroit brought the play back.

With the crowd screaming for the Vikings to go, Green agreed. The distance was almost 2 full yards for a first down and, if unsuccessful, Detroit would have the ball near midfield. The maligned Vikings running game got the call, as Jim Kleinsasser took a handoff and gained the needed yardage for a first down. The Vikings would go on to score, and what could have been a 7-7 game was now 14-3 and the Vikings had the Lions by the throat. Green had one up on Mornhinweg.

"You call things different when you're 1-3 than you would if you were 3-0," Green told VU, acknowledging that his decision was based on trying to put a fire under his team.

Had the play failed, the entire game could have turned on that moment. In contrast, the fact that it was successful turned the game around. Two coaches. Two decisions. One had the confidence to take a chance. One didn't. And it created the turning point of the game. VU

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