Vikings coach Brad Childress addressed a variety of subjects Tuesday during his season-ending news conference at Winter Park. One of the most important was just how in the heck the Vikings got called for a 12 men in the huddle penalty with 19 seconds left in the fourth quarter of their overtime loss to New Orleans on Sunday in the NFC title game.
That play took the Vikings from a second-and-10 at the Saints 33 -- in other words field-goal range for Ryan Longwell -- to a third-and-15 at the Saints 38. With the score tied at 28, Brett Favre then threw a pass that was intercepted and ended a drive that only moments earlier looked as if it could end with the Vikings headed to the Super Bowl.
So what happened? Here are Childress' answers on the topic of a play that will go down in Vikings lore with the "pushoff" and "taking a knee."
Q. As far as the penalty, was fullback Fahu Tahi the extra man and was running backs coach Eric Bieniemy responsible for sending him onto the field? How did that unfold?
A. "It was a 30-second timeout and you look back through the timeline. I got questions about how we started the 2-minute drive, we typically try to conserve our timeouts until the last minute unless we've got a gain of 10 or 15 yards that we can't get up and get to the ball [because] it takes a while for those linemen to get down there. But that was a 30-second timeout and we had talked about the same play with two different personnel groupings. The initial conversation was about a personnel grouping with a tailback and a fullback and we ended up settling on a tight end, three-wide type of operation [there actually were two tight ends and two wide receivers in the huddle] and we had the fullback in the huddle. Typically, when you hold your guys as we do, because [the Saints] are looking from that sideline to try to see what personnel you have, you're running people on and people are running off. But Tahi had gone into the game because that was the first part of the conversation and it's an error in communication and it all comes back to me not having it over-communicated."
Q. When did you realize that 12 guys were out there?
A. "Just as we broke the huddle and we had just come out of calling a timeout. You can't call back-to-back timeouts. That's the rules. So it was going to be a penalty one way or the other, breaking the huddle with the too many men or calling a timeout."
Q. At that point, is there anybody on the staff that is supposed to be looking for that or is it just too late?
A. "I've heard at least -- because I haven't read the accounts, it's too hard to read the accounts -- of chaos [on the Vikings sideline]. 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, coaching your guys. Is there anybody responsible? Yeah, they all hold up their hands, telling what position group is coming in the game 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."
Q. How tough is it to know that a penalty or mistake like that played such a crucial role in the season? You're big on guys doing things right and mistakes not happening?
A. "That's my mistake. Not that I accept it myself. [Childress' point being that he doesn't take it lightly that he made the error.] I'm harder than any of you guys are. It hurts a great deal and it hurts everyone a great deal. So, I'm disappointed that it happened. I know why it happened, but it happened. It didn't happen in a vacuum."
Q. Are you saying you know why it happened and you don't want to say?
A. "No, I know what the conversation was about the personnel groupings and I could see where in that 30-minute or 30-second span -- it seemed like 30 minutes -- what the processes were and obviously it wasn't clear to everyone."
Q. What's the gut feeling like when you see those 12 guys in the huddle and know that if the officials see it there is nothing you can do at that point?
A. "It's not good. I can tell you that. I saw it when the group was still together and moving out. It was too big of group. I think those guys were so focused that nobody noticed who was by whom and they are all just trying to do right.'
Q. You've coached a long time, where does this loss rank among your toughest? Does it shoot right to the top?
A. "Oh boy, I don't know. As coaches you always remember the tough losses and I always say the highs aren't as high as the lows are low in this business. But, once again, I think we did something to get there and guys gave a great accounting of themselves and took this state on a great ride. I'd rather be at some point in time a celebrating mode as opposed to look at the loss."