Many of you thought the Vikings’ eight penalties hurt them much more than I suggested in Sunday’s column. It’s true that the timing of several were terrible. Defensive end Brian Robison’s encroachment penalty negated a third-down stop in the third quarter, extending a possession that ended in a Bucs field goal. And the fourth-quarter call against defensive end Jared Allen for roughing the passer tacked 15 yards onto a 19-yard play preceding a Bucs touchdown. But those penalties, and others, didn’t have to hurt the Vikings as much as they did. There are any number of things that could have happened to compensate for those mistakes, which are not unlike what many NFL teams make every week. More than anything, the Vikings need a counterpunch. They need to find a way to win despite a few mistakes rather than get knocked off their tracks.
It got lost in the shuffle Sunday, but safety Tyrell Johnson could have sealed the game by catching a gimmee interception three plays before the Bucs’ winning score. Johnson stepped in front of quarterback Josh Freeman’s ill-advised pass to tight end Kellen Winslow at about the 10-yard line, but the ball slipped from his hands. Safety Husain Abdullah’s reaction indicated he had a strong chance to make the interception had Johnson not stepped in front. Regardless, Johnson has to make that play. He’s still competing with Jamarca Sanford for a full-time starting job, but I’m not sure we’ve seen much to suggest Johnson deserves to play more.
Quarterback Donovan McNabb was sacked twice Sunday, on both occasions nullifying a terrific matchup they had set up in the flat. Each time, receiver Percy Harvin was matched against a Buccaneers defensive end in a zone-blitz arrangement. Mason Foster sacked McNabb the first time, and safety Sean Jones bottled him up on the second. You would like to think Harvin would have produced a nice gainer in each case had McNabb gotten the ball off.
And here is one issue I still don’t get:
Coach Leslie Frazier’s explanation for not using a timeout on the Buccaneers’ final possession was admirable but didn’t really make sense. Frazier said he considered using one of his three timeouts with about a minute remaining but decided against it. "I really thought we were going to stop them on defense," Frazier said, either through a turnover or by forcing the Bucs to kick a field goal. There’s nothing wrong with confidence, but in this case Frazier needed to hedge his bet. You’re not sending players a bad message by calling a timeout. You’re telling them you will stop at nothing to ensure the team has its best chance to win. Not calling a timeout in that situation ultimately cost the Vikings at least 30 seconds when they regained possession. They didn’t have enough time to take one timeout, let alone three. Frazier didn't equip his team as well as he could have for that regrettable but necessary possession.