MELLENBRUCH: Don’t blame Walsh, even though you want to
In 2009, when the Minnesota Vikings lost the NFC Championship game in heartbreaking fashion, I blamed Favre.
Yes, the man who brought us there.
Yes, the man who led the Vikings to 12 regular-season wins and the NFC North title.
Yes, the man who threw up a middle finger to the team I hate most – that unmentionable team in green and gold – only to then produce the best statistical season of his career. In purple. That was delicious.
But Brett, what on Earth were you thinking?
I’m sure you already know what I’m talking about. In a tie ballgame with less than a minute to play in the fourth quarter, Favre found himself leading Minnesota into New Orleans territory, already on the cusp of Ryan Longwell’s typically reliable field goal range.
That’s when the unthinkable (and half-expected) happened.
Rolling to his right on third down with nothing but space in front of him, Favre chose not to throw the ball away or scamper for a short gain. Rather, he inexplicably threw across his body over the middle of the field, and directly into the waiting arms of Jonathan Vilma.
The Saints, of course, went on to win the game in overtime.
And in the immediate aftermath of that horrific event, with tears rolling down my 18-year-old face – yes, I cried – I blamed Brett. Yup, I sure did. The man whose 40-year-old season nearly produced the championship I’ve been aching to see. The man who ripped my heart out with perhaps the worst of his 336 career interceptions.
But that was a kneejerk reaction. It just took me a while to realize it.
And that’s what I’m asking of you today, Vikings nation. Take a moment to realize the multitude of factors that led to Sunday’s soul-crushing conclusion, not just the last one we all saw.
I’m sure most fans want to blame Blair Walsh. Heck, I bet a good handful of us could step outside and drill a 27-yard field goal right now.
But the Vikings had more than one opportunity to avoid that kind of late-game scenario, and we all know it.
Let’s not forget the miracle throw that put the Seahawks on the brink of their only touchdown, a play that started with a shotgun snap sailing 15 yards beyond Russel Wilson’s nonplussed gaze. In a flash, nearly all of Minnesota’s defenders abandoned their assignments in pursuit of the loose ball, their minds suddenly void of the fact that Wilson is among the league’s best scrambling quarterbacks, if not the best.
And as expected, Wilson avoided the pressure and made a play. No surprise there.
But even after Seattle’s touchdown, scored with 11:37 to play in regulation, the Vikings – still leading 9-7 – had a golden opportunity to burn some serious clock behind their hall-of-fame running back, Adrian Peterson, who’s never been shy about professing his own dominance over opposing defenses.
If only he were as passionate about holding onto the football.
While fighting for addional yardage on an 8-yard reception, Peterson coughed up his third career postseason fumble, and league-leading seventh of the season, to give Seattle’s offense – which hadn’t been able to move the ball effectively all game – possession inside Vikings territory. Steven Haushka later converted his only field goal attempt of the game from 46 yards out, just 3:33 after the Seahawks’ initial score, to give his team its first and only lead.
If Peterson hangs onto the ball there, Seattle doesn’t take the lead. Another bad break for Vikings nation.
And more than anything, let’s not forget about the poor play of Minnesota’s offensive line, which has been a source of frustration all year. Fans and pundits can criticize Peterson all they want for his meager 45-yard output from 23 carries, five of which went for zero or negative yardage.
But if he had a half-decent offensive front blocking for him, one which was robbed of two starters before the regular season even began, Sunday’s proceedings may have been different.
On a related note, Minnesota’s offensive line coach, Jeff Davidson, was fired Tuesday afternoon.
Now, it’s true. If Walsh hits that 27-yarder, all of the above is moot.
But he didn’t, and as a result, kneejerk fans – as I was in 2009 – suffered from immediate amnesia. Yeah, he missed, but let’s not forget that he was the only Minnesota player to score, including two field goals from beyond 42 yards – one of which was drilled with laces in.
He’s human, guys.
If anything, blame the Minnesota Vikings as a whole for letting it all come down to a field goal, because that’s clearly worked so well for us in the past.
An organization this cursed can’t afford to test fate to such a degree. Because when it does, we Minnesota sports fans are left repeating the same motto we’ve preserved for years and years.
Say it with me, folks.
There’s always next year.
This is the opinion of Joe Mellenbruch, sports editor of The Minot Daily News. Joe covers Minot State athletics, the Minot Minotauros and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @Mellenbruch_MDN.