The situation: With less than a minute to play in regulation, the Vikings moved to the Saints 33-yard line. Chester Taylor and Adrian Peterson took consecutive carries for no gain and the Vikings called a timeout with 19 seconds to play. When they reconvened in the huddle, they had 12 men and couldn't call back-to-back timeouts.
The penalty cost the Vikings five yards – and ultimately a long field-goal shot at the Super Bowl. Instead of third-and-10 on the 33, which would have been about a 51-yard field goal, the Vikings had third-and-15. They called the exact same play they had before the timeout – which was supposed to be a throw in the flat for Bernard Berrian as a first read – but this time there was an extra player on the field.
"In those 30 or 40 seconds the communication was obviously lost and for the most part I thought we handled that part of it well. That was not one of them," Brett Favre said.
"I'm not sure why it happened or how 12 men ended up in the huddle, but it is what it is," Sidney Rice said.
What it was, according to Vikings coach Brad Childress, was a mistake by fullback Naufahu Tahi.
"Tahi slipped up," Childress said.
"It was all in line with the number of timeouts that they had left (none). We just had a fullback in there and we broke the huddle with 12. You can't call back-to-back timeouts. We had just come out of a timeout."
But it turns out there was also a difference of opinion about what sort of a position they were still in to attempt the field goal. Favre thought they had to get closer than the 38-yard line and forced a late throw across his body intended for Sidney Rice that was intercepted for Favre's final play of the 2009 season, just like his final play with the Packers was an interception in overtime of the 2007 NFC Championship Game.
"After the penalty we were out of field goal range. I am not even sure what the exact yardage was that we needed, but the play was designed actually to go to Bernard in the flat – man coverage. They checked out of it and we went in motion. I was actually late to Sidney. I probably should have ran it. I don't know how far I could have gotten, but in hindsight that is probably what I should have done. I don't know how many yards we needed for a field goal, but I knew we needed some."
Or maybe not.
Had the pass gone incomplete or Favre ran even for no yardage – it looked like there were some yards to be gained in front of him – it would have been about a 56-yard field goal attempt. According to kicker Ryan Longwell, that was a solid possibility based off his pregame warm-ups.
"The furthest we went back was 53 (yards in pregame), but they were catching the net, which is seven to eight yards back there. I felt like I was hitting it good. You just want a shot at that point. Unfortunately we didn't get there," Longwell said.
"We would have tried that 56 (yard field goal). We would have tried it if we would have had the ball"
According to NFL Network's Rich Eisen, only four teams have ever won a playoff game with six fumbles and it hasn't happened since 1979.
The Vikings had six fumbles – two by Adrian Peterson and one each by Darius Reynaud, Bernard Berrian, Percy Harvin and Favre.
"We've had no three-turnover games this year, so to have five against a good football team it's very difficult to overcome," Childress said.
Peterson and Favre botched an exchange on a handoff when the Vikings were at the Saints 4-yard line just before halftime, negating at least a short field goal try and possibly a touchdown. And the Saints scored three plays after a Harvin fumble that New Orleans returned to the 7-yard line early in the fourth quarter.
"You know, even with all those turnovers and fumbles we still had a real good chance to win. We beat ourselves on offense," Chester Taylor said. "Everybody's feeling bad right now and it will hurt even more tomorrow. We feel like it just slipped through our hands."
Yes, it did.
The Saints and Vikings both brought in speakers/performers for their pregame meetings. The Saints had former NFL safety Ronnie Lott, who cut off the tip of his finger instead of having season-ending surgery so he could play in a Super Bowl.
The Vikings brought in the originator of the American Idol pop culture hit "Pants on the Ground," General Larry Platt. Bryant McKinnie put a video of Platt's Sunday morning performance in front of the team on his Twitter page. That can viewed right here.
Visanthe Shiancoe and Bernard Berrian also posted still pictures of Platt, Shiancoe posing with Platt is here and a picture of Platt's performance is
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.