In the fourth quarter of Friday's game, VU staffers were among the few people still interested in the outcome of the Vikings-Titans game. Many of the fans had left and veteran media wags had broken into small group discussions ranging from politics to the special of the day at Murray's steak house.
But, when a bizarre play following a Tennessee time out was called, two VU staffers who were charting the game drew the same conclusion -- what happened to third down?
Mike Tice was among those who caught the mistake and he was none too pleased. To set the scene, with 3:57 to play in the game, Tennessee had the ball on the Vikings 29-yard line. Running back Dan Alexander had gained 4 yards on first down, but lost 4 yards on second down -- bringing up a third-and-10. However, coming out of the time out, all of the down markers (on the Vikings sideline) still said second down. QB Billy Volek completed a 6-yard pass and the Titans, having seen the discrepancy, went to the line quickly.
Enter Tice. Complaining vehemently that it was fourth down, Tice asked that play be stopped and the drive checked for accuracy.
"I tried to plead with them to look at it," Tice told VU. "I was ignored. I guess they just looked at me as a rookie coach and that I didn't know what I was talking about."
Even the league's official play-by-play statistical recaps of the game had problems figuring out what happened. Every yard and every play needs to be accounted for and, the stat people were in a quandry. For example, if a team starts from the 20-yard line and gets a pass play that comes up an inch short of a first down, the player is credited with 9 yards. If the team's running back gains less than 1 yard technically, but advances the ball past the 30-yard line for a first down, he is credited with a 2-yard gain. It may sound crazy, but that's how the NFL policy on statistics run. So how do you explain an extra play? Apparently you don't.
In the packet of play-by-play stats provided by the league to the media following the game, it was proved Tice was right to object. The 6-yard pass by Volek was ruled the third-down play and the ensuing 9-yard sack by Chuck Wiley was listed as the fourth-down play.
While the stats technically showed a change of possession, it continued to have Tennessee with the ball and a false start penalty and an incompletion by Volek -- followed by the statement "Referee gave Tennessee an additional down in error."
While the drive didn't result in a score, at the time, the Titans still had a chance to come back on the Vikings. You can bet if a similar situation should arise in a regular season game, Tice won't be so easy to allow "no" for an answer.
* The Vikings have been largely injury-free this preseason, which hasn't been the norm around the league. While the Vikings have some aches and pains and minor injuries, they have yet to have a player go down to a serious, prolonged injury.
* Perhaps because of the relative health of the team and the long layoff from Thursday's preseason finale to the regular season opener, Tice indicated he might play his starters into the third quarter vs. Pittsburgh -- regardless of what the Steelers do. Tice feels the team needs to get longer work in game situations and needs to have a chance to come back after cooling down at halftime and making coaching adjustments from what was seen in the first half. While many coaches believe in giving starters merely a cameo appearance in the last preseason game, don't expect that from Tice.
* Tice has downplayed the woeful ineffectiveness of kicker Doug Brien, who has made just one of five field goal attempts. Speculation has already begun that Gary Anderson, who was reluctantly cut by the Vikings in April, could get the call to return. While Tice said at the time of Anderson's release that the primary reason for it was that the Vikings would need to keep three kickers on the roster -- Anderson, a kickoff specialist and a punter -- if Anderson stayed, VU has heard that the coaches have been looking at a scenario under which they keep three kickers. Brien still has a vote of confidence ... for now ... but if he doesn't show marked improvement vs. Pittsburgh, he could become a casualty before his Vikings career officially begins.
* Red McCombs was in town Friday, but it wasn't to cheer on his team. He gave a deposition in the $100 million lawsuit filed by the family of Korey Stringer. There is no talk of a settlement and likely won't be one.
* Tice may announce some of his cuts as early as today, as the Vikings need to trim their roster to 65 players. But, he added he has until 4 p.m. Tuesday to make the cuts and may wait until then to make some or all of the cuts.
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