Game Plan That Got Away

The Vikings found a winning formula about halfway through the season, but when it counted they got away from that formula and ended their playoff hopes.

Vikings coach Mike Tice has a saying: "Live by the dog, die by the dog."

"The dog" is Purple parlance for blitzing a linebacker, and they had plenty of blitzing linebackers and safeties Sunday night in Baltimore. Ultimately, that is what the cost the Vikings their fading playoff hopes in a 30-23 loss.

The dog became the road kill that is the 2005 season.

"The Vikings that were number one in the league in not giving up 16-yard passes going into the game gave up two long touchdowns on third down. They were both in man blitzes," Tice said. "Early in the season I was talking with Antoine (Winfield) … when everyone was sitting around trying to define what the Viking's defense should be. I mean everybody – the owners, the players, the personnel people, the media, the head coach Mike Tice, everybody was thinking the Minnesota Vikings were going to be a blitz man-to-man coverage team. But as the season unfolded we became a very smart, zone, play-11 guys together, play-11 man defense, smart defense. And because of that we reeled off six wins. That was a large part of it."

Then came Sunday night, when the Vikings decided to pressure Baltimore quarterback Kyle Boller. Minnesota produced two sacks, both by dogs – linebackers Sam Cowart and Raonall Smith got them – but the blitzing also helped Boller to his second straight impressive performance.

Boller finished the game 24-for-34 for 289 yards, three touchdowns, one interception and a 113.5 passer rating. And this was the guy whose job was in jeopardy? In the past, Vikings fans were used to watching pedestrian quarterbacks have career outings against their defense. This year, however, was supposed to be different and was different for much of the past two months.

"We had a lot of interceptions and we were number one in the league in not giving up 16-yard passes," Tice said. "So trying to get off the field on third down and trying to do some man blitzes ended up haunting us twice yesterday. It is too bad because those were two big plays in the game, two majorly big plays in the game."

After the Vikings took a 7-0 lead on their first drive of the game, Baltimore marched back for a 17-play drive that was culminated with a touchdown pass to tight end Todd Heap on third-and-goal from the 6-yard line. Even so, the Vikings maintained a 14-10 lead at halftime.

But it got much worse in the second half. On Baltimore's first drive of the third quarter, Boller needed to convert only two third downs on his way to a touchdown, the second one coming on a 47-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Mark Clayton on third-and-7.

Boller did it one more time at the start of the fourth quarter. He converted third-and-12, third-and-9 and third-and-14 before connecting on a 39-yard touchdown pass with wide receiver Derrick Mason on third-and-8.

"The biggest reason why, I felt in looking at the tape and watching the game as it unfolded, is we couldn't get off the field defensively and we didn't stay on the field enough times offensively on third down. It came down to third down being our downfall. I think it is as simple as that, which is not simple. The coaches tried a number of different coverages."

Ultimately, though, it was that dog-gone dog that bit the Vikings in the back end.


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