The 12th man?

The 12th man typically refers to loud home-stadium fans. But fullback Naufahu Tahi has seemingly been branded as the 12th man in the Vikings huddle late in Sunday's NFC Championship Game that resulted in a penalty that prevented the Vikings from attempting a potential game-winning field goal. On Monday, Tahi still wasn't sure if he was right or wrong.

The Vikings' dream season of 2009 ended in the most uncharacteristic of ways – making critical mistakes that ranged from turnovers to mental errors – costing themselves the NFC Championship. In a game filled with fumbles and interceptions, the one that had most agonizing was the 12-men-in-the-huddle penalty in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter.

Already within the edge of Ryan Longwell's field goal range, had the Vikings gained nothing on the next play, Longwell would have had the chance to kick a 51-yard field goal. Over the last two seasons, Longwell had made all eight of his attempts of 50 or more yards, so it seemed logical that the Vikings would run the ball in the middle of the field, try to pick up as many additional yards as possible, call a timeout and let Longwell have the chance to kick the Vikings into the Super Bowl.

But, as the Vikings huddled up, 12 men were on the field, which is a 5-yard penalty under NFL rules. Unable to call a second timeout without running a play, the Vikings were assessed the penalty. That additional yardage took Longwell beyond the point that Favre felt Longwell could make a field goal – a number Longwell estimated both Sunday night and again Monday as around 53 yards.

So who was the blame for the penalty? Many would say that, as head coach, Brad Childress was responsible for getting the play call made during the timeout and the correct personnel grouping to run that play. Fullback Naufahu Tahi was, for all intents, thrown under the bus by the coach, who said, "Tahi slipped up."

When asked if he felt he was the culprit – the 12th man in the huddle – Tahi said the coaches would know that better than he, but that he believed he was supposed to be on the field as a blocking back.

"I don't really know," Tahi said when asked if he was the extra player in the huddle. "I'm sure that's something Coach Childress will be talking about (at his year-end press conference). I really can't answer that, because I don't know what happened."

What was clear was that, if not for the penalty, the Vikings were trying to decrease the distance. After losing the five yards on the penalty, Brett Favre was intercepted trying to zip a ball across his body to Sidney Rice in the middle of the field. But, as the team took the field to run one play before a potential game-winning field goal attempt, the plan was to gain a couple of extra yards and leave the chance to go the Super Bowl on the foot of Longwell.

"I knew it was a short-yardage play," Tahi said. "I don't know what the coach was thinking where it was (to get in position) for a field goal. I was just more focused on my job and what I had to do. I didn't know what was going on. The coaches know more about that I do."

Childress will surely be asked to elaborate on the play at his year-end press conference Tuesday, but, despite the multiple mistakes made by the Vikings during the course of the game, Tahi believes the team did everything it needed to win, but just came up short at critical times.

"I thought we played a great game," Tahi said. "We did our part. We did all we could to win the game. It was just a few things that kept us short of (winning)."


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