Editor's note: This is a republished story from the January 18, 1988 Star Tribune, which included coverage following the Vikings' loss to Washington in the NFC Championship Game.

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Consolation wasn’t quite the right word and looking for a bright side seemed inappropriate in the serious setting of the Vikings locker room moments after their 17-10 loss to the Washington Redskins in the NFC championship game Sunday.

But in a day or two, quarterback Wade Wilson will be able to wake up, haul himself out of bed, look in the mirror and say, “It wasn’t my fault.”

Far from it.

This isn’t about divvying up blame. Like many of his teammates, Wilson could have played better. No argument there. It’s just that most of those teammates could have played MORE better than Wilson.

The Vikings did not miss out on a trip to the Super Bowl because their backup quarterback was not good enough to take them there. And in a season that sometimes served as a subplot to the Great Quarterback Controversy, that was significant.

“I was happy to get a chance to play and play in some pressure games and see if I was up to the task,” Wilson said. “I know what some of my deficiencies are now and what some of my strong points are.”

With his hands bloodied, his uniform muddied, Wilson looked like a man who gets regular work at his position. Sounded like it and, most important, played like it, too.

There were two big reasons the Viking lost, and Wilson was neither: They dropped passes and they couldn’t get a touchdown near the goal line when they needed it.

Vikings receivers dropped right passes. The most memorable was Darrin Nelson’s lunge with time running out, but several others could have changed, well, everything. Tight end Steve Jordan and running back D.J. Dozier, for example, dropped third down passes that could have extended Vikings drives early in the third quarter, with the score tied 7-7.

“They dropped some balls but they made some big catches to get us here,” Wilson said. “You can’t fault the way guys played today. They played hard and they made some outstanding catches or runs to get us this far.

As for the aborted series early in the fourth quarter in which the Vikings with a first down at Washington’s 3-yard line, failed to reach the end zone, Wilson said: It’s haunted us all year long and we didn’t get it done again today.

In a similar situation against Chicago in December, Wilson failed to get across from the 1. This time he didn’t get the chance; the Vikings coaches tried rookie Rick Fenney twice for a total of 2 yards, tried rookie Dozier on third down for no gain, then settled for a field goal.

“Six inches away, you like to think you could make it on fourth down,” said Wilson, who led the Vikings in rushing with 28 yards. “But that’s been a problem area for us all year long.”

Wilson’s major mistake was a pass midway through the third quarter that was tipped by Dave Butz and intercepted by Mel Kaufman; four plays later the Redskins scored on a field goal.

But the rest of Wilson’s numbers were good: He completed 19 of 39 passes for 243 yards and a touchdown. Those numbers look particularly good when you factor in the eight sacks allowed by his so-called pass protections.

Ironically, the team that might have switched quarterbacks was the Redskins. Doug Williams, save for two passes to Gary Clark and one to Kevin Bryant, did little to spark the offense. He completed nine of 26 attempts for 119 yards.

“You always, when you have two quarterbacks, have an option,” Washington coach Joe Gibbs said. “You go with your gut feeling my gut feeling said stay with Doug.”

Vikings coach Jerry Burns, whose gut feelings repeatedly put Wilson on the bench this season, showed no signs of making a switch Sunday. In fact, for the second time in two weeks and perhaps only the second time all season, Wilson did not hear these words: “Did you think you might be pulled?”

The outcome of the game, of course, precluded any question about next week.

“This season has been up and down, back and forth for me,” Wilson said. “It’s been frustrating at times, a lot of fun at times.

“Playing in a game, that’s what it’s about.  It was my first opportunity to get some extended playing time. I think I played well at times this season and I think I matured a lot as a quarterback.”

Probably a lot as a person, too.