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Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy reacted to a Packers penalty call in the third quarter Sunday at Mall of America Field.

Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

McCarthy's challenge didn't hurt his team the way Schwartz's did

  • Article by: DAN WIEDERER
  • Star Tribune
  • December 31, 2012 - 1:28 AM

Note to all NFL head coaches: If a play ends with a turnover or a touchdown, keep your red challenge flag to yourself.

It's a lesson Green Bay's Mike McCarthy learned Sunday -- though with a much less harmful consequence than Detroit's Jim Schwartz experienced last month when an odd and obscure league rule entered the national consciousness.

There were 2 minutes, 4 seconds left in the third quarter Sunday when Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers hit James Jones with an apparent 8-yard touchdown pass. Only Jones lost the ball as he dived across the goal line. And the initial ruling from officials was a fumble recovered by the Vikings.

So then the chaos elevated. The replay official immediately buzzed referee Mike Carey to initiate an automatic review. And within a few seconds, McCarthy threw his red challenge flag. That, of course, is an unnecessary action and drew a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.

"Emotional decision by me," McCarthy explained. "I shouldn't have done it."

Yet because McCarthy's red flag flew after Carey had been buzzed from upstairs, the referees were allowed by rule to continue reviewing the play. And eventually, the review correctly overturned the fumble, turned it into a touchdown and resulted in the 15-yard penalty being assessed on the ensuing kickoff.

On Thanksgiving, Schwartz's unnecessary throw of his challenge flag on what was erroneously ruled an 81-yard touchdown run by Houston's Justin Forsett came before a replay official buzzed down to initiate automatic review. So, by NFL rules, the penalty assessed against the Lions took away the opportunity for replay review in a game Detroit lost 34-31.

Angry reaction

The Vikings' anger and confusion during that sequence was obvious. Coach Leslie Frazier was animated as he tried to block Carey's path to the replay hood. General Manager Rick Spielman ran down to the press box during the sequence to gather an explanation from an NFL official.

Said defensive end Jared Allen: "Anger. Straight anger. You're telling me that they buzzed him too early so it's not a penalty? ... You've got precedent set and you don't follow precedent. It is what it is."

'Sack daddy' times 3

Everson Griffen had reason to break out "Sack Daddy," his trademarked celebratory dance, three times. With a trio of sacks on Rodgers, Griffen continued a remarkable late-season surge. He finished the regular season with eight quarterback takedowns.

"Oh man, it's amazing how we are playing," Griffen said. "With everybody stepping up on every different level."

Second chances

Michael Jenkins heard the fireworks explode above his head. They had gone off prematurely with stadium personnel thinking the receiver had hauled in a 12-yard touchdown pass from Christian Ponder with 9:35 to play. But Ponder's throw was a bit wide, and when Jenkins hit the ground with it, the ball popped out for an incompletion.

Said Jenkins: "I was a little sick. ... I heard the boom. And I was like, 'No! No! Don't shoot that off.' But I was glad I was able to make up for it."

He made up for it with a diving 3-yard TD catch four snaps later.

Jenkins wasn't the only one with such a drastic emotional swing. Adrian Peterson almost lost a fumble with 6:11 left in the third quarter. But a replay review ruled Peterson was down by contact before losing the ball. On the next play, a second-and-27 from the Packers 35-yard line, Peterson uncorked a 28-yard run for a first down.

Winfield reinjured

Antoine Winfield tried to play through the pain. But with a broken bone in his right hand that quickly swelled again in the first half, he had to leave the game for good.

"I really didn't have too much power in it," he said. "There wasn't much I could do."

Winfield sat and Marcus Sherels took his place as nickel back, a tough transition that burned the Vikings at times, most notably when Rodgers hit Jordy Nelson for a 73-yard gain in the third quarter.

Winfield said he struggled sitting out in a game so meaningful and vowed to play Saturday. "I'll definitely withstand the pain," he said. "I can still tolerate some pain. But it was a little rough today."

Etc.

• The Vikings added to a historic season with their ground attack. Peterson supplied 199 of the team's 217 rushing yards in the finale. As a team, the Vikings ran for 2,634 yards this season, tying the franchise mark set in 2007, Peterson's rookie season.

• Peterson's rushing average of 6.026 yards per carry for a season ranks fourth-best in NFL history with 250 minimum attempts. Cleveland's Jim Brown has the record at 6.4 in 1963, followed by Detroit's Barry Sanders at 6.1 in 1997 and Buffalo's O.J. Simpson at 6.033 in 1973.

• The Vikings increased their win total by seven this season, the biggest season-to-season jump in franchise history. That was set in 1998, when the Vikings went 15-1 after a 9-7 campaign in '97.

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