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A 99-yard cushion

12/1/2008

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
MINNEAPOLIS -- Please, just be in the right spot.

That thought looped through Gus Frerotte's head Sunday night during that seemingly interminable period in the second quarter. Frerotte was waiting to find out if a once-in-a-career pass would succeed or fall to the ground. The defensive alignment was ideal, the safety took a pump fake, the cornerback picked his poison and Minnesota's top receiver was open for a momentum-changing, 99-yard touchdown.

All Frerotte had to do was get it there.

"All the years that I have played, you get those calls a lot," Frerotte said. "You're throwing the ball out of the end zone. We're trying to go deep, but if it's not there, you check it down. But it was just one of those things. ... I'm just saying to myself, 'Please just be in the right spot.' You let it go and put some air on it. It ends up being perfect."

Indeed. Frerotte and receiver Bernard Berrian hooked up for the 11th 99-yard pass in NFL history, a well-called and perfectly executed play against a defense stacked for a running play. The score gave Minnesota a lead it never relinquished in a 34-14 victory over Chicago, a game that left the Vikings in sole possession of first place in the NFC North.

How did the Vikings' big-play receiver get so open in that situation? Here's a look at the most interesting play of the NFL weekend, based on interviews with the participants:

The Bears spent much of Sunday night in a Cover 3 alignment -- with cornerbacks on either side, one deep safety and one safety on the line of scrimmage to help in run support.

Chicago defensive coordinator Bob Babich employed that Cover 3 alignment (the Bears often use a Cover 2) after the Vikings took over at their 1-yard line 4:59 remaining in the second quarter. That left Charles Tillman matched up against Berrian. Safety Kevin Payne was deep and safety Mike Brown was "in the box" near the line of scrimmage.

"We weren't surprised," Berrian said. "They're more of a Cover 3 team than a  Cover 2 team."

On first down, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell called a play that Berrian said he has been lobbying for all season. Lining up in a run formation known as "Tiger," the Vikings had two tight ends on the line of scrimmage.

Berrian trotted out to the far left side. Tight end Visanthe Shiancoe lined up next to left tackle Bryant McKinnie. Tight end Jim Kleinsasser was next to right tackle Ryan Cook. Bevell's play called for Berrian and Shiancoe to run "go" routes. In playground terms, they went long.

Frerotte pump-faked to the right, freezing Payne. Frerotte then looked back toward Berrian.

"Right as I was throwing," Frerotte said, "I saw the corner break to the inside."

Yes, Tillman left Berrian to cover Shiancoe. Suddenly, there was Berrian -- all alone -- along the sideline.

"A lot of teams do that," Frerotte said. "Sometimes they cheat the corner. They cheated on [Shiancoe]. He's been big for us in games on the seams. [But] I don't know why he played [Shiancoe]."

Tillman said afterward that the Vikings caught him in a coverage that made him responsible for both Berrian and Shiancoe. The chances of a throw from the 1-yard line are relatively low, and the likelihood of a deep, double-move pass are even lower.

"It was a good read on their part," Tillman said. "He pumped back side and he gave a hard pump fake so I squeezed [Shiancoe], but he came back backside and threw it to [Berrian]. It was zone coverage and I had Bernard and whoever, I think it was the tight end, whoever the tight end was. Zone coverage. I was covering both and I had two verts. I chose to take No. 2. Like I said, just a good play on their part. No excuses. It was a good play. It was great offensive execution."

It's rare when a play call matches the defense and the situation so well. Berrian admitted it was a perfect storm of possibilities.

"It was actually a lucky play," Berrian said. "It was the luckiest touchdown I've ever had. [Tillman], he went and bit on [Shiancoe] and tried to make a play on Visanthe. Gus said he looked to one side and was surprised at how open I was."

Frerotte was lucky just to be in the game at that point. Earlier in the quarter, Bears defensive end Adewale Ogunleye sent him sprawling to the turf with a hit that came so late that officials apparently were no longer watching the pocket. It took Frerotte several minutes to get off the field, and although he regained his senses in time to return for the next series, he was still seething about it afterward.

"Sometimes those cheap shots like that tick you off pretty good," Frerotte said. "You go out there and you want to play well. You want to show them, 'Hey look, no matter what you're going to do to me or my team, we're going to be resilient and play through it.' And we're going to play tough."

Indeed, the Vikings outscored Chicago 34-7 after that hit.

"Should have been a flag on that," McKinnie said. "I don't know what happened on that. That was a cheap shot."

Chicago quarterback Kyle Orton didn't fare nearly as well; his streak of 206 consecutive passes without an interception ended with a trio of second-half picks. Worse, they led to 17 Vikings points.

"It's tough to win games when you throw three picks," Orton said. "The passing game needs to step up. I need to step it up, and put it on myself and get back to work and get better."

A couple notes before we call it a night:

  • Vikings defensive tackle Pat Williams combined with defensive end Jared Allen to stop Chicago tailback Matt Forte on a fourth-down run immediately preceding the 99-yard touchdown. Williams on the Bears' decision to run directly at him: "It didn't really matter. I wasn't surprised. It didn't matter. They can try all th
    ey want to. If you want to bring it, bring it on. That's what everybody was thinking. I love it when teams try to run on us. I love it. Everybody else loves us too."

  • The most recent 99-yard pass reception in the NFL came in 2004, between then-Cleveland quarterback Jeff Garcia and receiver Andre Davis.