Sometimes a turning point can be the play that isn't made, not the one that is.
When the Vikings arrived at Tampa, they came to play a team that was being skewered in the media and even booed by their own fans. When going into a hostile environment, the best thing to do is turn the fans on their own home team, allowing their boos to serve as your cheers.
The Vikings had that opportunity in the opening minute of the game, as a mental lapse by kick returner Dwight Smith gave the Vikings the game's first break. Smith, who typically doesn't handle kick-returning duties, took the opening kickoff and stepped out of bounds on the 4-yard line. The Vikings had Tampa Bay backed up and, after two runs lost a yard, the Bucs fans were booing the conservative playcalling — and the Vikings had a chance to dig Tampa a deep hole.
Instead, Brad Johnson completed a pass to Reidel Anthony for 13 yards and a first down. While that play in itself wasn't a complete back-breaker, it got the fans in the game and it put a fire under the Tampa Bay offense. The drive fizzled, but the Bucs were able to get out of the shadow of their own end zone, and when the Vikings failed to move the ball it was a series of missed plays that turned the game around.
With the game still scoreless, the Vikings defense had a pair of chances to stuff the Bucs and keep the game's momentum in check. But Brad Johnson was given time to find Keyshawn Johnson for 15 yards on a third-and-4. Three plays later, Brad Johnson called his own number on a fourth-and-1 similar to the play the Packers failed to make that turned that game around in the Metrodome. Instead, Johnson got the first down, the Bucs had momentum and the rest fell into place.
For fans who simply looked at the stat sheet, they would have said that Mike Alstott was the key to victory, carrying more than 20 times in the first half and scoring three touchdowns. But it was key plays by Brad Johnson — two passes and one sneak — and perhaps more importantly, missed opportunities by the Vikings defense that made the difference in the game and allowed the Bucs to get a freight train rolling that didn't stop.
Granted, Alstott's contribution can't be dismissed. But it was the chance to again bring doubt into the minds of the Buccaneers players, coaches and fans that the same inept offense that had been stinking up NFL stadiums for the last month was again rearing its ugly head. That was the missed opportunity. Everything that followed fell the Bucs' way. The Vikings had the chance to make plays on defense — and not extremely difficult plays — that could have sent the game heading in a different direction. They didn't make the plays and the Buccaneers did, creating the turning point of the game. VU
Early Missed Plays Spell Doom
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