Loss Leaves Looming Questions

The Vikings' special teams have been anything but the last two years and, after Sunday's loss, it might be time to question whether special teams coach Rusty Tillman should be held accountable.

Snap. Crackle. Pop.

No, it's not the Rice Krispie munchkins. That's the sound of ankles breaking as fans jump off the Vikings bandwagon. After a second straight loss in which the Vikings offense, never known for Elwayesque resurrections from the dead, made up a 14-point deficit only to lose in the final five seconds, there's a tendency for fingers to be pointed.

While Sunday's loss to the Packers smacks of 2003 – where the Vikings blew a golden opportunity to leave the rest of the NFC North in the rear-view mirror – it's not the end of the world. The Vikings still have a very good chance of winning the division. But, barring a significant change, the Vikings aren't a Super Bowl contender at this point.

Granted, the Vikings' three-game losing streak has come without Randy Moss, but offense is just one of three phases of the NFL game. There is defense and special teams that factor in and, by almost anyone's estimation, the Vikes have been miserable at both.

For those with no allegiance to either team, Sunday's game was an NFL classic – two great offenses and two woeful defenses saying whoever has the ball last wins. The last two weeks, it turned out that the Vikings defense was on the field last – and both times couldn't make the stand to stop it.

While coach Mike Tice has seen defensive coordinators replaced about as fast as toothbrushes, he has remained loyal to Rusty Tillman as his special teams coach. One can only assume that Tillman gave the O.K. on the signing of "kickoff specialist" Jose Cortez – a bitterly ironic oxymoron considering the depth of kickoffs Sunday. While few turkeys have been carved as nicely as the Vikings defense the last three games, two long kickoff returns allowed on fake reverses by the Packers almost solely counted for 10 points in a three-point loss.

Scapegoats are a way of life in the NFL. Ask Ed Donatell, the former Packers defensive coordinator. It happens. When is Tillman going to be held accountable? Remember when the Vikings' special teams were envied. That car is getting smaller in the rear-view mirror every week. Tillman was the driving force behind Aaron Elling and Eddie Johnson. The solution de jour? Go retro – Morten Andersen and Darren Bennett. Mortie's a likely Hall of Famer, but that's off of largesse from years gone by. Bennett is the reincarnation of Reggie Roby – flat-footed and 35 yards.

Lost in all of the more obvious problems was that, if not for two great plays by Gus Frerotte to corral awful extra-point snaps, the game-ending field goal likely wouldn't have been necessary. Frerotte should have received a special teams game ball – nobody else deserved one.

For those who believe the game has three relatively equal facets – offense, defense and special teams – the Vikings are in trouble. The defense is suspect at best, but the special teams is far from special. It's time for a change – and it should start with Tillman.

MONDAY NOTES
* Lost in the sad conclusion to Sunday's game was the performance of Nate Burleson, who caught 11 passes for 141 yards and a TD. He has picked up more of the slack since Moss has gone down than anyone and, for a second straight game, was critical to the Vikings coming back from a double-digit deficit.
* In a somewhat classless move, the University of Wisconsin marching band – still wounded vicariously through the defeat of the athletes they "oom-pah-pah" for – strolled out on the field between the third and fourth quarters with the tubas spelling out "Where you at Moss?" Aside from the grammatical mistakes, each on of the final "S" letters looked like the number five – which is higher than their Badgers are going to be ranked this week.
* Daunte Culpepper suffered what was reported as a knee contusion in third quarter. Obviously, he finished the game, but will be examined today.
* Moss is expected to have a follow-up MRI on his hamstring today or Tuesday.
* The Vikes continued their NFL-record 19-game streak of averaging four yards a carry or more in a game – despite rushing just 16 times for 71 yards.
* The Packers had 442 total yards of offense Sunday – 236 passing and 206 rushing.
* Defensive tackle Spencer Johnson got his first extended action of the season. The Vikings de-activated Steve Martin to give Johnson more on-field opportunities.
* The Vikings' clock management reached Martzian proportions again Sunday. In the first half, the Vikings ran out of timeouts early in the second quarter – losing one for a non-winnable challenge and two others on offense when the team didn't have plays ready in time with the play clock rolling.
* RB Mewelde Moore was de-activated for a second straight week.
* Although replays effectively showed beyond any doubt that Derek Ross had possession of a fumbled kick return in the final two minutes, neither the officiating crew on the field nor the officials in the replay booth opted to invoke a booth challenge on the play.

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