Call This One "The Gaffe"

Why isn't this man smiling? Because the play that could have -- and possibly should have -- won Sunday's game vs. Atlanta was ruled illegal even after checked with officials prior to gametime.

There's been "The Immaculate Reception," "The Drive," "The Catch," "The Hail Mary," "The Holy Roller" and "The Music City Miracle."

All of them have been used to describe victories. There hasn't been a term to describe a botched play that provided a loss. Perhaps there should be. Call Sunday's last-minute call vs. the Falcons "The Gaffe."

With the Vikings trailing 24-21 with less than 30 seconds to play, the Vikings pulled a trick play out of the bag that they were convinced would work. It did. It was a reverse to Randy Moss and a throwback to Daunte Culpepper for a touchdown that would have given the Vikings a 28-24 lead with 24 seconds to play.

There was one problem. It wasn't legal.

In the press box at the Metrodome, cheering is not allowed. Even the team chaplain isn't immune from being silenced. However, before the play got named "The Gaffe," VU poobah Bob Lurtsema was cheering like a fan. That was, until a VU staffer said "flag!"

A penalty flag was dropped -- and rightfully so.

Following the game, coach Mike Tice tried to defend the play, saying it had been looked over by the officials and approved. Yet, no numbers were associated with players assigned to the specific call. Although it seemed clear -- on the diagram shown to VU, the center is marked with a box and two players, obviously a guard and tackle, were denoted with circles next to him. However, without numbers, it wasn't technically clear who the two circles represented.

When Moss came in motion from the left side of the formation, left tackle Bryant McKinnie was the last person along the line toward the left side. That has been a formation violation for years -- when asked by a pool reporter after the game, referee Ed Hochuli said it's been in existence since before he became an official 13 years ago.

Where the rub comes is that McKinnie, who seemed dumbfounded when surrounded by reporters asking why he didn't report himself as an eligible receiver, would have needed to say he was eligible for the play to commence. When a player other than a skill position (QB, RB, WR, TE) reports as an eligible receiver, there's little doubt -- the referee announces it over his microphone to the entire crowd. To announce McKinnie as eligible would have made it fairly obvious that Moss was coming in motion.

The fact that the Vikings thought the play would be allowed was fine. The fact they didn't check to see whether having an offensive lineman alone one the outside of a formation would be nullified is inexcuseable. Of all the problems the Vikings have had this season, not following through on a play they had to know was a violation of formation procedure was costly -- as in the difference between potentially winning a game and actually losing a game.

* Michael Vick had two amazing stats on Sunday. His 173 rushing yards set a single-game rushing record for a quarterback in the modern era of NFL football. The other was that, after scoring his overtime touchdown run, he finished with 173 yards rushing and 173 yards passing.
* McKinnie was in and out of the lineup Sunday with a bout of a gastrointestinal virus that is similar to the one that has run through the team the last couple of weeks. He had diarrhea before the game and was vomiting during the game. He played in all four quarters, but had to be replaced from time to time when he felt sick.
* Why are the Vikings 3-9? There are two stats no team wants to lead the league in -- turnovers and penalties. The Vikings lead the league in both.
* Two Vikings came very close to reaching individual milestones Sunday. Michael Bennett is just six yards short of 1,000 yards rushing and Moss is 10 yards short of 1,000 yards receiving.
* Moss did surpass the 1,000 total yard plateau Sunday -- the fifth straight time he's done that. It ties him with original Viking Tommy Mason for third place on the all-time list for consective seasons with 1,000 or more total yards. Cris Carter holds the team record with eight straight years, followed by Chuck Foreman with six.
* In other belated news, Green Bay finally clinched the first NFC North title. As hard as it may be for Cheeseheads to believe, it's the Packers' first division title in five years.

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