Call is applauded; result is regretted

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 25, 2011 - 11:48 PM

The Lions plugged the line and stuffed Toby Gerhart on a key fourth-and-1 play that even workhorse Adrian Peterson endorsed.

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On fourth-and-1, Vikings running back Toby Gerhart got stuffed for no gain by the Lions late in the fourth quarter.

Photo: Brian Peterson, Star Tribune

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The Vikings were clinging to a three-point lead early in the fourth quarter at Mall of America Field when, on third-and-9 from the Detroit 25, Vikings quarterback Donovan McNabb hit wide receiver Michael Jenkins for 8 yards.

Decision time.

The field goal unit began to head onto the field. The crowd roared a near-unanimous opinion: Go for it. Vikings coach Leslie Frazier left the offense on the field. Standing ovation.

"We were confident that we had a good play that would get us the first down," Frazier said.

The Vikings went for it. They decided to give the ball to Toby Gerhart instead of Adrian Peterson. The play gained nothing.

Let the second-guessing begin. A field goal would have extended the Vikings' lead to six and, perhaps, in hindsight, won the game. Instead, the Lions produced two more drives that ended in field goals, taking a 23-20 lead. The Vikings responded with a field goal to send the game into overtime.

But many players applauded the fourth-down decision. "We were trying to get momentum going," Gerhart said. "If we kick a field goal there, and they score a touchdown? But if we get it and score, it's a two-score game."

All moot, of course. The Vikings lined up with Gerhart and Peterson in the backfield, with Gerhart the up back. The play was designed for Gerhart to run in the gap between left guard Steve Hutchinson and left tackle Charlie Johnson. But there was nothing there.

"The plan was to just follow the wall," Gerhart said. "But it was clogged up. I tried to find a little daylight, but there were two guys unblocked."

Gerhart tried to get farther outside, but the play never had a chance. Twelve plays later a Lions field goal made it 20-20.

"The guys inside knocked their center and guards back, and the running back had to bounce it out to me," Lions defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said. "We've got some big boys inside, some strong players."

Afterward Peterson admitted he wanted the carry but said he understood the call. "Did I want the ball? Of course," he said. "That's my mentality. But Toby has picked up first downs on that play before. I have confidence he would get it."

McNabb lauded the decision and agreed with the play call as well. "Obviously you look at it now, everyone would say, 'Give the ball to Adrian,' " McNabb said. "But we thought we had a great call. No one expected Toby to get it, and I thought we had it."

Johnson remembers being on the bottom of the pile, looking and thinking Gerhart had gained the yard. But the officials spotted the ball and didn't even measure. "Bottom line is, it doesn't matter who got the ball, why we ran the play we called," Johnson said. "It came down to they made the play and we didn't."

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