It is expected that preseason games with backups playing from start to finish are going to be sloppy, but, in what head coach Brad Childress termed "embarrassing" when it came to the play of his quarterbacks, the Vikings defense couldn't be blamed for Friday's 35-31 loss. The defense allowed just 14 points, but it was the other 21 points that made the turning point of the game.
Coming out of halftime, the Vikings looked primed to close out the preseason with a perfect 4-0 record. They had a 21-7 lead and got the ball to start the second half. The team would take a nosedive from there.
On the first offensive play of the second half, Sage Rosenfels misread the Dallas coverage and threw a pass into the stomach of safety Pat Watkins. He caught the ball and had clean sailing to the end zone, returning the pick 23 yards for a touchdown to cut the Vikings lead to 21-14 just six seconds into the second half.
"I just read the coverage wrong," Rosenfels said. "I threw it blind a little bit and thought the guy would be open. It was just a bad play by me. Other than that, I thought I did a pretty good job of executing the offense and moving the ball. I think we had four possible scoring drives I was in there for. It was just that one boneheaded play and I wish I had it back."
At the time, it appeared as though it might be Rosenfels' last pass of the night. He was replaced by John David Booty on the next drive and, on his first pass, he threw a pass that was intercepted by linebacker Steve Octavien and returned 44 yards for a touchdown.
Somehow in the span of the first two minutes and 35 seconds of the second half, the Cowboys had erased a 14-point deficit without their offense even stepping on the field.
"At times, it (the quarterback play) was embarrassing," Childress said. "I end up putting that on myself, not having them ready to to come out of the locker room at halftime. All the quarterbacks I have ever coached have some regard for the football and you can't throw it to them (the defenders)."
After the Vikings fought back to take a 31-21 lead, the Cowboys once again chipped into it with a sustained drive to score a TD with 7:21 to play to cut the Vikings lead to 31-28. With three minutes to play, the Vikings were going to ask their defense to make one last stand, but they would never get the chance.
The Vikings coverage team, which had been praised for much of the preseason after an awful 2008 campaign, was asked to pin the Cowboys deep. With the punt coming from the Dallas 35-yard line, a pooch kick was anticipated, but the results were anything but what was expected.
Chris Kluwe hit a punt that landed on the 5-yard line and bounced back toward the pile of players gathered around the 15-yard line. Cowboys players jumped out of the way of the ball until it popped into the arms of wide receiver Jesse Holley. When he turned, there was nothing between him and the end zone but Kluwe. He blew past the punter with a stiff-arm and went 82 yards for what would prove to be the game-winning score.
"It doesn't do anything to tarnish the things we have done in special teams throughout the preseason," Childress said. "It was kind of a fluky operation right there."
While history won't remember what the Vikings' preseason record was in 2009, they blew a chance to have a 4-0 preseason because of allowing 21 points to be scored against the offense and special teams, gaffes that created an ugly turning point.
Turning point: Turnovers that sting
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