Third Downs Kill Defense

Emmitt Thomas' defense had the Lions in trouble many times late in the game, but too often the Vikings defense gave away the third-down conversions.

There are few excuses that are acceptable for a team that loses to a winless team this late in the season. The Vikings defense has played much better than it did earlier in the season, but when the team really needed a defensive stand, the defense couldn't produce.

The Vikings fell behind early because of the ineffectiveness of the offense. Two interceptions led to 10 points that weren't the fault of the defense, but as the game went to the second half, suddenly the offense caught fire. The Vikings scored 17 straight points and had their first lead of the game.

The defense couldn't use being tired as an excuse since that unit had been on the field for only four minutes of the second half. The Lions were down and feeling flattened, and the Vikings had a chance to finish the job. But, like so many other fourth quarters this season, they didn't get it done.

It wasn't like one play beat the Vikings on this day. As the third quarter ended, the Lions were pinned on their own 5-yard line facing a third-and-25, but a blown coverage allowed tight end David Sloan to roam free over the middle for a 27-yard gain to the 32-yard line. One play later, Johnnie Morton got free for a 25-yard gain into Vikings territory.

The Lions needed to get a touchdown to regain the lead, so all the Vikings defense needed to do was make a stop on third down again, but, with a third-and-2 from the 35, rookie quarterback Mike McMahon scrambled for 22 yards. And, two plays later, on a third-and-3, he scrambled for 4 yards to set up the eventual game-winning touchdown.

After the Vikings offense failed to have an answer, the defense was again asked to produce a three-and-out, but allowed James Stewart to pick up a first down on a 13-yard burst. Then, facing another third down, the defense left fullback Cory Schlesinger uncovered for a long gain that helped milk out the clock.

If blame is to be sent out, it could be shared by the offense, the defense, the coaching staff and the special teams. But it was critical mistakes by the defense when the team absolutely had to have a stand to salvage the season that created the turning point of the game. VU

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