Sometimes I wonder if Paul Tagliabue, the National Football League's commissioner, doesn't get into the minds of some of the officials to try to keep the ratings up and the mystique of Lambeau Field alive. The Minnesota Vikings played one of their better games Sunday night, and by all practical means should have come out a winner.
Whether it was the mystique of Lambeau Field or just a good old-fashioned border war, as Chris Hovan called it afterwards, there were plenty of reasons for the players to be angry with the outcome. There were numerous close calls on penalties and even some no-calls. Safety Jack Brewer was involved in two. On the first one, he was pulled down by the jersey while covering a punt, and the flag was picked up for a no-call. On another play — the potential game winner for the Vikings — he intercepted a pass that he said was uncatchable by the receiver, but Corey Chavous was flagged for pass interference. And Jim Kleinsasser probably will never be able to figure out why pass interference wasn't called when he was tackled down around the ankle while a Daunte Culpepper pass was in the air headed for the big tight end.
But it wasn't only the officials that had this team frustrated after a bitter loss. They not only played hard, tough, aggressive football at the line of scrimmage, but they felt their effort allowed them to totally control the Green Bay Packers. They were influencing the contest with their running game, and Culpepper was using the clock in the fourth quarter to the Vikings' advantage.
It wasn't just physical domination. The Vikings were also acutely aware of the time in the closing seconds, so much so that when Chris Walsh caught the ball on the 43-yard line with less than 10 seconds, he took a knee, declared himself down — using a rule that says the ball should be dead after three seconds — and signaled for a time out. Using that rule allowed the Vikings offense one more play with the opportunity for a Hail Mary, hoping for the same result that the Cleveland Browns had against the Jacksonville Jaguars earlier in the day. Because Walsh took a hit while kneeling and calling the time out, that led to a postgame melee between the teams … but maybe that is what the commissioner wants for ratings and rivalries.
When you watch a 3-9 team work so hard in a game like this, it truly is tough to be critical. Yet when the special teams give up a blocked extra point — the first block by the Packers since 1998 — it is frustrating because that was such a pivotal point the rest of the game. Mr. Tagliabue still has the mystique of Lambeau Field, but being in the Vikings locker room I have never seen a football team so upset with a loss. The Vikings may be 3-10 now, but there was no indication of that with how personally they were taking this loss.
Lurtsema's Reaction: Close Calls
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