Tice Tired Of Criticism

Some media members and fans criticized the Vikings' conservative game plan against Chicago last week. Vikings coach Mike Tice defended his philosophy and lashed out about the criticism.

Coach Mike Tice is angry at local columnists and radio talk-show hosts who criticized his game plan in Sunday's 13-10 loss at Chicago.

Last week, Tice set the tone for Bears week early by saying it would be "a street fight" in Chicago because of the rivalry and the game being outdoors in mid-December. Some believe Tice stuck to that conservative philosophy unnecessarily because he wanted to prove the Vikings were the tougher team.

The weather was mild for mid-December in Chicago — 34 degrees with no snow and a 6 mph wind. The Vikings have the No. 1-ranked offense and were coming off a game in which they beat Seattle 34-7 with three touchdown passes of 40 or more yards. But they took no shots down the field and stuck with a heavy dose of runs off tackle.

Some felt Tice played down to the Bears, who were giving rookie quarterback Rex Grossman his NFL debut behind a makeshift line. The Bears were out of the playoffs, but the Vikings' game plan probably helped them hang around long enough for cornerback Charles Tillman to steal the victory with an interception on a jump ball to Randy Moss with 1:02 left in the game.

Tice snapped this week when a television reporter asked what the theme would be for Saturday's game against Kansas City at the Metrodome. The reporter began his question by saying, "Last week, you called it a street fight ..."

"And that is what it turned out to be, contrary to what everybody is writing," Tice interrupted. "I don't think as writers it does our program any justice when you criticize the type of game we play.

"We are trying to win a game on the road, in a hostile environment. One stat that I didn't tell the team or coaches because I didn't want them to think about it is in the past 15 outdoor games, we're 1-14. In the last 12 games against Chicago, the average margin of victory was four points.

"How am I supposed to change that? That's history. This was a black-and-blue division game. I am going to lay out for the players what kind of game it is going to be. I just happen to share that with you guys sometimes because I am open and have a big mouth. I guess I shouldn't tell you guys what kind of a game it is going to be because then you criticize me for telling the truth.

"It is easy to sit up in the press box and criticize how we tried to play the game. So this week is going to be a tough game to win. That is all I am going to say because I am not going to lay out for you guys what I am telling the team because you guys don't use it the right way."

Tice also called out the players, although not by name publicly.

"We lost because on third-and-two, we don't make a tackle behind the line of scrimmage, and they go down and score a touchdown instead of a field goal," Tice said. "That's a four-point swing. Take the four points away and we win 10-9. That is why we lost the game, not because some joker is going to write about what kind of game we said it was going to be.

"It is because we didn't execute. We didn't lose because we chose to run the ball. We lost because we didn't make one more play. If we made one more play, including the last play of the game [Tillman's interception against Moss], we win the game."

SERIES HISTORY: 9th meeting. The Chiefs lead 5-3, but are 1-1 at the Metrodome. The Vikings won 30-10 at the Metrodome in 1993, but the Chiefs won 21-6 there in 1996. The Vikings lost the last meeting 31-28 at Kansas City in 1999. Robert Smith ran for 118 yards, Robert Tate returned a kickoff 76 yards for a touchdown and Randy Moss caught a touchdown pass. But the Vikings couldn't overcome a 21-0 deficit. Although they haven't met during the regular season since 1999, the teams are familiar with each other. They have held joint practices in River Falls, Wis. in recent years. The practices got heated this year, causing Chiefs coaches to complain the Vikings were too aggressive.

  • P Leo Araguz went from selling insurance in Harlingen, Texas, on Monday to getting ready for Dante Hall and the Chiefs on Tuesday. He'll make about $31,000 over the final two weeks of the regular season as part of a prorated one-year minimum contract for a fifth-year player. Araguz, a former Raider and Lion, has punted in only three games since the end of the 1999 season, none since 2001. He was with the Chiefs during this year's preseason. If the NFL doesn't work out for him, he said he's a pretty good insurance salesman. Asked what kind of insurance he sells, Araguz said, "Pretty much anything. What do you need? We got it. Health, life, auto, home, commercial, dental. We can even insure you if you go into Mexico."

    Araguz was married five months ago. He and his wife, Christina, a high school government teacher, were wrapping Christmas presents Monday when Vikings special teams coach Rusty Tillman called with a job offer. Araguz punted for Tillman with the Raiders and in the XFL when Tillman was head coach of the New York/New Jersey Hit Men. "The phone rang and it was Rusty," Araguz said. "My wife and I had been looking at the punting stats every day. That's why I kept up with my workouts. Stats don't lie in our business. When I told my wife, ‘I think I'm going to Minnesota [Tuesday], she just smiled. It certainly was an early Christmas present."

  • The Vikings are the only NFL team with two punters. That's because coach Mike Tice has a soft spot for rookie Eddie Johnson, whom Araguz replaced. Johnson will be inactive for the rest of the season and will compete for the job in 2004. Tice likes Johnson's leg strength, but feels he's mentally shot this season after muffing three snaps in three weeks and punting inconsistently for all but two games. Johnson might have been the only punter in NFL history to still be on the team when his replacement showed up on the other side of the locker room to speak to the media. Of course, it could be worse. He could be DT Cedric Killings, who was released to make room for two punters on the roster. "It's too bad it had to come to this, because although I'm still here, I've got to deal with the fact that somebody else lost their job because of it," Johnson said. "That's not exactly the best feeling in the world."

  • SS Corey Chavous, who leads the NFL in interceptions with eight, has a soft spot for the Chiefs. His first start and first interception came against the Chiefs in 1998 when he was with the Cardinals. He intercepted Rich Gannon. Chavous also had a career-high 11 tackles and an interception against Kansas City in 2001.

  • The Vikings can clinch the NFC North this week with a victory over Kansas City, a loss by Green Bay at Oakland on Monday, a victory by Atlanta over Tampa Bay and victories by two of the following three teams: Detroit, Washington and Pittsburgh. The Vikings also can clinch a wild-card berth if they win and Green Bay wins. It would require a victory by Dallas and losses by Seattle, New Orleans and Tampa Bay. The playoff scenarios are too much for coach Mike Tice to deal with. "The best way to get out of this is to win," Tice said.
  • WR Randy Moss has five receptions for 76 yards and one touchdown in one game against the Chiefs. QB Daunte Culpepper and RB Michael Bennett have never played against Kansas City.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 4 — Interception returns for touchdowns for the Vikings in seven home games this season. The Vikings have 15 interceptions at home and 10 on the road.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I am not going to lay out for you guys what I am telling the team because you guys don't use it the right way." — Coach Mike Tice, addressing the media Tuesday. Last week, Tice told the media the Vikings were approaching the Bears game as if it were "a street fight." He was soundly criticized by columnists for being too conservative in the 13-10 loss at Chicago.

    With so little wiggle room for making the playoffs, coach Mike Tice couldn't bring himself to go into another game with rookie Eddie Johnson as his punter. So he signed Leo Araguz, who was selling insurance in Texas and hasn't punted in a regular season NFL game since 2001 when he was with Detroit for three games.

    Tice did, however, resist owner Red McCombs' desire to release Johnson after Johnson muffed a snap for the third time in three weeks and continued his season-long erratic play.

    "Maybe I'm crazy," Tice said, "but I like the kid. He just has a mental block right now. I still think he'll be a good punter in this league."

    Rather than release Johnson, Tice released young DL Cedric Killings, who was inactive all season and unlikely to play at all this season.

    It seems odd to have two punters on the roster, but Killings isn't expected to be picked up by another team. So if something happens to one of the remaining defensive linemen, Killings can be re-signed.

    The Vikings invested a sixth-round pick in Johnson. Considering who they released instead, keeping Johnson was a good decision.

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