NEW ORLEANS -- Only time will tell if the 12-men on the field penalty called late in the fourth quarter of Minnesota's overtime loss to the Saints in Sunday's NFC title game will go down in Vikings' lore like Drew Pearson's supposed push off against Nate Wright in 1975. But the infraction called by referee Pete Morelli's crew certainly has that potential.
There were 19 seconds left in the fourth quarter with the score tied at 28 and the Vikings had a third-and-10 at the Saints 33-yard line when the flag was thrown. That meant that without the penalty, even if the Vikings had gained no yards on third down, they would have been in a position for kicker Ryan Longwell to attempt a 50-yard field goal.
Longwell told reporters he had been hitting easily from 53 yards in warmups so it seemed within reason that he would have hit from 50. But the penalty changed that. Suddenly, it was third-and-15 from the Saints 38-yard line with 19 seconds left.
So what happened? "We just had a fullback in there and we changed up and broke the huddle with 12," coach Brad Childress said. "You can't call back-to-back timeouts either. I thought we slipped up there."
Putting the Vikings 5 yards back suddenly meant that Longwell was looking at a potential field-goal attempt of 55 yards. "Just the slightest bit of miscommunication," left guard Steve Hutchinson said. "For whatever reason, [we had] an extra guy in the huddle."