Stillers 21, Vikes 16 .......... Dec. 2nd, 2001 ............Game #11
Stillers-Vikes Postgame Analysis and Grades
For over 3 quarters, the Stillers pushed around the Vikes and held a commanding 21-3 lead. Then Billy Ball took over, and combined with some sloppy play, the team went into a conservative shell and allowed the Vikes to roar back in the game's final 7 minutes, turning a 21-3 laugher into a 21-16 nailbiting victory.
1. Stew throws his first INT in ages, giving the Vikes golden field position at their 47 and setting up an easy FG drive.
2. Troy returns a 3Q punt 28 yards, setting the team up in great field position.
3. Later in that drive, on 3rd & 2, Troy takes a reverse and weaves and then plows his way for a 12-yard TD, his first TD in nearly 2 years.
4. Troy forces a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, Giving the Stillers the ball at the Minn. 47 and setting up�.
5. Amoz scoots around right end for an easy 4-yard TD, giving the Stillers a 21-3 lead.
6. Bennett takes a screen pass and dashes 80 yards to give the Vikes life and cut the lead to 21-10.
7. On their next series, Moss abuses Chad Scott on a deep bomb, and makes a great catch for a 62-yard gain, setting up a TD that cut the lead to 21-16.
8. Stewart fumbles on 3rd & 4 at his own 21, giving the Vikes the ball at the Stiller 10.
9. Bouman's 4th down lob to Moss in the back corner of the EZ falls inc. as DeWayne Washington provides tight coverage on Moss.
QB: Stewart had a pretty solid day, completing 13 of 19 for 157 yards. He surely would have passed for more, but the reins really tightened on the offense, so the final 4 drives of the game were almost exclusively running plays. His two best passes were the 24-yard deep in to Burress, which was thrown like a bullet and very accurate; and the superbly threaded slant pass to Ward in the 3Q that netted 19. His 21-yard near-TD scamper was a beauty, combining good speed, moves, and desire. The obvious downers for Stewart were the INT and the fumble. On the INT, it appeared to be a simple matter of Stewart telegraphing the throw with a long stare at Ward, who was double covered. On the fumble, Stewart was a bit careless with the ball as he was trying to weave forward on a QB draw, although, to be fair, Stew could have never expected his RG to get wheeled back so abruptly. B.
RB: Bettis was on his way toward a 100 yard game, when his hip/groin acted up and he had to sit out the last quarter of play. Prior to that, he rumbled for 81 yards on 19 carries, including a 22-yard scamper and a 1-yard TD plunge, along with a 16-yard pass reception. He did fumble the ball on the 2nd offensive play of the game, but fortunately recovered. Fu got most of the work in relief of Bettis, carrying 12 times for 74, including the game-sealing 46 yard run. Amoz carried 45 times for 15, and had 1 grab for 3, and had a nice 4-yard TD run in which he read the play well and then used his speed to turn the corner and walk into the EZ. Mysteriously enough, Amoz was pretty much forbidden from toting the ball in the 4th quarter. A pretty good effort from all 3 backs. A.
FB: The thoroughly unworthy Jon Witman again got the start, and tip-toed around with a host of shabby blocks. The play that enraged me was the 2d & 2 plunge midway thru the 3Q, in which Witman was literally tossed to the ground by LB L. Hall, who then blasted Bettis short of the sticks. Witman did have a nice 14-yard gain on a plunge that caught the Vikes off-guard. Kreider assumed more and more of the workload as the game wore on, and did a superb job on AZ's touchdown run. B.
WR: Burress had a fairly productive day, managing to secure 6 balls for 86 yards. The problem continues to be the totally flawed manner in which Burress catches passes, in which he allows the ball to hit his chest, shoulder, belly, facemask, helmet, or anything else that is handy. I'm at the point where I half expect Burress to grab a yard marker on an out pass, and use that to help catch the ball. Burress had a blatant drop just before Brown's missed FG, in which the ball bounced off his shoulder pad. This wouldn't have gotten the 1st down, but it would have chopped off at least 12 yards from Brown's 40-yard attempt. Two other passes may have been dropped, but Fox provided no replays. Even the deep fade-stop that Burress managed to haul in, was caught with the help of his facemask. Of the 6 balls Burress caught, only one was caught purely with the hands. Ward chipped in with 3 grabs. Bobby Shaw had only 1 grab for 3 yards, but it was a clutch 3rd down reception that moved the chains on the opening possession. Edwards took the reverse and did a nice job of cutting the play back just a smidge to avoid a high-flying Viking, and then Eddie showed good determination to bust into the EZ. B.
TE: Tuman actually threw a couple of adequate blocks. He caught one pass for 12 yards late in the 2Q, although, in perhaps his worst mistake of the day, Tuman failed to get OOB when it was very do-able for him to do so. Geason and Cushing chipped in with the blocking on 2 TE sets. With Bettis averaging over 4 YPC and the Stillers rushing for 4.5 per crack today, the loss of Mark Bruener continues to be on par with the loss of assistant waterboy BJ O'Quiggley. B.
OL: The line regrouped from its shabby effort last week, and did a fairly good job. Stewart wasn't sacked all game, and unlike last week, wasn't under a lot of duress. The primary culprit of most of the slop today was RG Oliver Ross. Indeed, Ross is a tackle who is playing out of position, but throughout the day, Ross was stumbling and bumbling around in such a wretched state that I found myself waxing fondly of the days of Brendan PigStai. Ross was flagged for holding deep in Viking territory 2 plays prior to Kris' missed FG. The more egregious boner was the pitiful blocking he attempted to do on DT Chris Hovan on the Stewart fumbled QB draw. Hovan literally wheeled Ross back 5 yards as though Ross were wearing roller blades, and the fumble was caused by Ross' fat ass running into Stew's arm, thus jarring the ball loose. Hartings & Gandy were also was flagged for holds. Marvel Smith had an outstanding pancake block on a Viking that allowed Stewart to run 21-yards for the near-TD. The line play is going to have to be better if this team as any aspirations of going deep in the playoffs. B-.
DL: This was a pretty strong effort from the DL. Kimo really wreaked havoc today. His stuff of Prentice on a 3rd & 1 plunge forced the Vikes to punt, after which Troy galloped 28 yards on the punt return. Smith had a couple of decent pressures on the QB. Clancy got banged up -- not sure what his injury consists of. They were gashed once by Bennett for 12, and once by Chapman for 9, but otherwise jammed up the Viking ground attack all day. A-.
LB: An eerily quiet day from the Stiller LB corps. Porter was credited with just 2 stops, and oddly enough, KenBell was credited with none. Bell, in fact, missed the tackle of Bennett's 12-yard run. Earl Holmes was by far the most active of the LBs, making 4 solos and 4 assists. On at least 4 occasions, Holmes came in on running plays and either dropped the ballcarrier or so clogged the lane that the runner had nowhere to go. Holmes, it should be noted, was blatantly tripped/held by guard Cory Withrow on Bennett's 80-yard screen play TD, which caused him to stumble off-balance and allowed Bennett to juke by the normally sure-tackling Holmes. From the only source anywhere to pick up on this missed penalty, you can see from the pictures below, Withrow is clearly behind Holmes and, with arms extended, grabs Holmes' leg/foot in broad daylight. (See yellow arrows.)
With a ref standing 8 feet away and watching this blatant infraction right in front of him in clear view, it was a travesty that this play was not called back with penalty flag.
Jason Gildon had a typical day with another marginal, no-impact, little-hit effort. B.
DB: Chad Scott had the kind of day that all CBs think about while waking up, and sweating profusely, in the middle of the night. Scott was torched and abused by Randy Moss the entire day, giving up one completion after another, after another. What really annoyed me with Scott was two things: a. The wounded duck pass to Moss on 3rd & 5 midway through the 2Q, in which Scott stood flat-footed and made almost no effort to break up the jumping catch by Carter; and b.) the half-hearted easing off on both the 62-yard bomb and the ensuing 12-yard TD pass, both of which saw Scott clearly easing off for no reason whatsoever. I re-watched these plays on tape, and was mortified by Scott's half-heartedness on these 2 plays that late in a close game. Scott was beaten on the bomb, but, as the ball was arriving toward Moss, you can see Scott ease off, and that enabled Moss to do a 1-handed tap-and-catch with no disruption at all. I felt Myron Bell took a poor angle at Bennett on the 80-yard TD jaunt, but Bell redeemed himself with an outstanding sniff and stuff of a throwback screen to Chapman on the Vike's final drive. Flowers provided little help in the pass defense. On the plus side, Brent had 2 INTs, and DeWayne had very sound coverage the entire day, including on the 4th down last-chance lob to the EZ to Moss (although, to avoid a cheezy flag I'd have preferred that DW crane his head around toward the ball on that play). Townsend had 2 very good stops on those little "flare/swing" passes that the Vikes like to run to their receivers. Scott: D-. All others: B+.
Spec teams: Although not a horrible day, this was a good bit of the same old shit from the spec teams. The KO coverage was shabby all day, giving up 4 returns for 93 yards. Even on the KO return in which the Stillers forced a Viking fumble, the Vikes had a very good return and would have started their drive near midfield. Kris Brown's KOs were adequate, but not great. Kris missed a 40-yard FG, wide right, and totally flubbed one PAT so badly that it hit the left upright before falling through for the point. For the 2nd week in a row, the lone bright spot was Troy Edwards, who had the 28-yard punt return (his first of the season, I believe) to set up a TD, while also forcing a fumble on KO coverage with a great burst of hustle and speed to chase down the Vike returner from behind. C+.
OC: Some good; lots bad. Mularkey did a decent job of getting Bettis some openings. Mularkey also, as he has this season, got Stew on the move with keepers, rolls, and boots. And the "fake confusion" play was a superb innovation that snapped the ball directly to Bettis after Stewart walked toward the sidelines in supposed confusion & disgust, gaining 7 yards. (Of course, it'd probably have been better served to keep this play in-hiding until the playoffs, and with the Stillers having no timeouts, it lost a lil' bit of its effectiveness.) But the bad outweighed the good. For starters, for the 2nd week in a row, Mularkey threw in a cutesy gimmick play after a long sequence of successful plays on the opening drive. This time, it was a 1st down reverse and then flea-flicker type pitch back to Stewart, who was easily engulfed for a 5-yard loss. This bogged down the drive and we punted 3 plays later. I don't have a problem with running these kind of gimmick plays, but continually trying to run them on the very first possession, when the opposing defense is typically brimming with alertness and totally devoid of fatigue and prior "set up" by the offense, is outright asininity. I also wasn't too pleased with the 3rd & 1 QB sneak soon after Troy's forced fumble in the 3Q. Stewart was stuffed, and Bettis was called upon and got 4 on 4th down. The point is this -- if this was truly "4 down territory", why run a chickenshit sneak that, at best, will gain a yard? Why not scorch the Vikes with a play-action boot, or a deep lob to a receiver? The overly conservative playcalling in the 4Q was more so the fault of the head coach, as it was very evident that Cowher took over the reins of this offense in the 4th quarter and insisted on Billy Ball thereafter. B-.
DC: Tim Lewis had the luxury of facing a gimpy Culpepper, followed by a cold, inexperienced Todd Baumon, all with a nice lead and with Minnesota mounting no consistent ground game. Yet Lewis was unable to put the clamps on the Vikes . To be fair, there's no way Lewis could expect/counter the sequence of Holmes being outrageously tripped, followed by Bennett's 80-yard jaunt. Nor could Lewis expect that Chad Scott would play about the worst game of his 5-year career. My problem with Lewis primarily concerns his gross inability -- and refusal -- to adapt and adjust as the game wore on. It was evident that Moss was toying with the beleaguered Scott, and what did Lewis do? Provide as much help as tossing an anchor to a drowning man. No deep help. No double coverage. No shaded coverage. No brains. C.
HC: This game is exactly what ya get when you play Billy Ball -- "keep it close in the 4th quarter, and hope that you can win". (Cowher's words, not mine.) Playing at home, against an opponent rife with strife and dissention, this should have been a blowout when the Stillers took a commanding 21-3 lead. Instead, Marty Jr. pulled out every nuance he could from the Marty Shittenheimer "How to Lose Games and Influence Nobody" book of football, and nearly snatched defeat from victory with gutless, chickenshit offensive playcalling that made the weak Taliban effort in futilely defending Afghanistan look absolutely valiant in comparison. And leave no doubt, Lil' Billy, not Mularkey, was the man behind the play-not-to-lose playcalling. Up 21-3, here are the Stillers' first 4 drives of the 4Q:
- 1: Fu run, Fu run, Fu run for 0 on 3rd & 1, punt
- 2: Fu run, short inc. pass to Ward, screen for 3 yards on 3d & 5, punt
- 3: Fu run, Fu run, Fu toss sweep on 3rd & 5 for 3 yards, punt
- 4: Fu run, Fu run, Stewart QB draw on 3rd & 4, fumble.
On the 5th drive, Fu was able to take a sweep on 3d & 11 and gain 46 yards. These first 4 drives of the 4Q are exactly the play-not-to-lose brand of Billy Ball that pulled defeat from victory against the Browns in 1998, as well as snatched defeat from victory in the 1995 AFC championship game vs. S. Diego and nearly did so again the following year vs. Indy in the AFC title game. Mind you, I'm not saying the Stillers should have turned pass-happy during these drives. But Stewart has shown enough adult behavior and responsibility this season to be given the chance to complete a chain-moving pass against a defense that is massively over-playing the run. Cowher can gloat and bask in the glory of his 100th win, but he ought to be ashamed for the Billy Ball that nearly cost his team a critical win today. Furthermore, the team seemed to be a bit haughty and complacent today, and the kind of vicious hitting that has carried this team was clearly not evident in today's game. And, last but not least, you have to wonder about Cowher's communication with his staff on the replay challenge on Stewart's near TD, as well as his thought process behind going for that challenge. The staff up in the booth should have seen that there was inconclusive evidence, and with a 1st down inside the 1, this was a foolish challenge that had such little upside. D+.
Synopsis: Some folks wonder why I keep a bottle of Rolaids nearby during Stiller games. This game shows why. This could have been a colossal defeat, akin to the Clev. loss in '98 or the Philly loss last year. At any rate, a game like this, in the long run, can far better serve as a "lesson learned" before the playoffs begin, than if this game had turned into a 27-3 cakewalk with lots of garbage-time slop and laughter. In the NFL, with the kind of offensive weapons you see every week, you simply cannot go soft and lax when you're up by only 2 TDs, two 2-pointers, and a FG. This game was too similar to the win over KC in October, in which the Stillers had a commanding lead before going soft and lax in the 4th quarter. This near-loss should serve as extra motivation and a hedge against complacency, as the Stillers prepare to face the Jets next week in a game that could ultimately determine the home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.