NFL: Childress takes the blame for Vikings’ 12th man snafu against Saints
By Judd Zulgad
Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Vikings’ gut-wrenching overtime loss Sunday at New Orleans in the NFC Championship Game was filled with countless inept plays and controversial calls that will fuel plenty of offseason discussion.
But if this defeat is going to be defined by a phrase to be uttered with disgust by Vikings fans for generations to come, it will be this: “The 12th-man game.” That will join “The Push-off” and “Taking a knee” — descriptions of the Vikings’ 1975 playoff loss to Dallas and 1998 NFC Championship Game loss to Atlanta, respectively — as terms that will enter the lexicon of the Vikings’ long-suffering faithful.
So how did this happen? How on earth did the Vikings end up with 12 men in the huddle with the score tied at 28, the ball sitting on the Saints 33-yard line and kicker Ryan Longwell ready to boot this franchise into its first Super Bowl in 33 years? Vikings coach Brad Childress attempted to provide some of the answers Tuesday at his season-ending news conference at Winter Park.
He said fullback Naufahu Tahi was not at fault for being the extra man in the huddle, took the blame on himself and cited an “error in communication,” in explaining one of the highest-profile miscues in the Vikings’ 49-year history.
The situation went like this: With 19 seconds left and following back-to-back rushes for no yards, the Vikings stopped the clock by using their second timeout before a third-and-10 play. The offensive linemen stayed on the field but all of the skill position players came to the sideline to consult with their position coaches.
Tahi and Adrian Peterson talked to running backs coach Eric Bieniemy; Bernard Berrian and Sidney Rice spoke with wide receivers coach George Stewart; and Jeff Dugan, Jim Kleinsasser and Visanthe Shiancoe got instructions from tight ends coach Jimmie Johnson. Shiancoe at one point even appeared to double-check to make sure he should go back on the field.
“That was a 30-second timeout and we had talked about the same play with two different personnel groupings,” Childress said. “The initial conversation was about a personnel grouping with a tailback and a fullback and we ended up settling on a tight end and three-wide type operation.
“Typically when you hold your guys as we do, because (the Saints) are looking from that sideline to see what personnel you have, you are running people on when people are running off, but Tahi had gone in the game because that was the first part of the conversation. It’s an error in communication and it all comes back to me not having it over-communicated.”
In addition to the linemen, the huddle included quarterback Brett Favre, Peterson, Tahi, Dugan, Shiancoe, Berrian and Rice. The television copy showed Childress and Bieniemy clearly realized there is an extra man as the Vikings break the huddle; Favre saw it, too, and signaled for a timeout.
However, calling a second consecutive timeout isn’t legal — one way or another, the Vikings were going to be moved back 5 yards. Childress clearly showed his frustration as two penalty flags flew and turned to say something to Bieniemy, who is Tahi’s position coach. The Vikings declined to make Bieniemy available to comment Tuesday.
The infraction meant the Vikings had gone from a potential 50-yard field-goal attempt to a 55-yarder. The longest field goal the Vikings wanted Longwell trying would have been from 52 yards. Of utmost importance, too, was the Vikings had gone from a certain run situation to attempting a pass, a pass the Saints intercepted.
“I’ve heard at least — because I haven’t read the accounts, it’s too hard to read the accounts — of chaos (on the sideline),” Childress said. “I think everybody was over communicating with their position group, that’s what those guys do. Everybody was talking in ear pieces and listening, coaching your group.
“Is there anybody responsible? Yeah, they all hold up their hands, telling what position group is coming because you can’t always hear in those environments. It’s a visual type of thing and typically you see a quarterback step away if there are too many people in the huddle. (Favre) was listening to (offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell) give him the signal and he wasn’t ... we don’t count (the players) every single time in the huddle. Tahi was kind of squatted down on the other side.”
Childress, though, made it clear he wasn’t blaming Tahi, Bieniemy or anybody else.
“Like I said, that’s my mistake,” he said. “Not that I’ve accepted it myself. I’m harder (on myself) than any of you guys are. It hurts a great deal and it hurts everyone a great deal. I’m disappointed that it happened. I know why it happened, but it happened. It didn’t happen in a vacuum. ... Like I said, most of those guys were so focused that nobody noticed who was by whom and they’re all just trying to do right.”