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The football gods tried one more time, then they gave up on the Vikings

Harry P. “Bud” Grant was waiting for the elevator to the press box 10-12 minutes after the Vikings were eliminated by the New York Giants, 31-24, in the first round of the NFC playoffs on Sunday.

It was a longer than normal wait and we were chatting. Back when I was Pioneer Press, when Bud was our legendary Vikings coach, I used to call him “Horseshoe Harry” in honor of the good fortune that seemed to come just in time. for his team on so many Sundays.

Yet in all those years, 11 played with 14-game schedules, six with 16 games and one with nine (because of the 1982 players’ strike), Bud has never had a team so full of chance than the 2022 Vikings in their 17 games. program.

“I thought the football gods were smiling at them again, Bud, when Slayton dropped that pass,” I said. then win it in overtime.”

Grant nodded and said, “A few of us said the same thing…that the fall was the break they needed.”

The Giants led by that touchdown, facing third and 15th in their 41st, and the Vikings having used all three timeouts on that New York possession.

Rather than throwing Saquon Barkley down the middle to take more time before a punt, the Giants executed a play that had worked multiple times:

A shallow cross against the grain and Darius Slayton was big, wide open, reaching full speed, and was going to get the 15 as Giants quarterback Daniel Jones hit him in stride.

Slayton (four catches, 88 yards) had been the second wide option for Isaiah Hodgins (eight catches, 105 yards, one touchdown) – and neither of these largely anonymous receivers had hinted they might have a fall in a situation. like this one.

But dropping it did Slayton, first with a bobble, then with a panicked reach and slap on the ball to try and control it. The still-excited crowd let out a roar of approval, as the Giants’ Jamie Gillan came out for his second punt of what was now the evening.

The Vikings would start at their 12 with 2:56 remaining to get that tied touchdown. They had been in more perilous situations becoming the fourth quarter kings of the NFL. One reason being Kirk Cousins’ ability to turn many third quarter clunkers into fourth quarter art.

And then, the second and the 4, the idea that the fall of Slayton would be the limit of the involvement of the gods ended. There was a fake 15-yard roughing penalty on Dexter Lawrence, a top lineman for the Giants.

The hit on Cousins ​​wasn’t too high, too low, or too scary, but referee Adrian Hill – a calm and generally low-key figure over the previous three hours – decided to help the local team.

That put the Vikings at 33, and Cousins ​​immediately hit his main target on Sunday, TJ Hockenson, for 13 yards. He had 10 catches for 129 yards – and what an addition this tight end has been since being acquired from Detroit on Nov. 1.

Given the quality of his first draft, dropping a second round was by far the best decision made by rookie general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah for the 2022 season.

Has anyone seen this young man in a public forum lately, by the way? Since Adofo-Mensah had a fairly candid interview with USA Today in late July that sparked some controversy, he has seemed to stay further away from the picture than Patrick Peterson did a few times on Sunday.

Back to action:

The Viking had the first down at 46 with 2:09 to go … and the only problem seemed to be if Cousins, Mr. Late Lightning, got his team into the end zone too quickly, allowing Jones to make a few plays (with either legs or arm) and set up a field goal winner from 61 yards from Graham Gano.

And then the world once again turned to Kirk and the Vikings. Suddenly they got to the fourth and 8th and Cousins ​​brought back that old habit that everyone thought they left behind in Mike Zimmer’s coaching staff… throwing well under the sticks with a defender there to make a play.

In this case, Hockenson was 5 yards from a first down when Giants safety Xavier McKinney made the save with 1:44 left. Three knees from Jones and that was it.

The gods had once again tried to do their thing for those Vikings, but this time Cousins ​​and coach Kevin O’Connell — and, of course, the defense with another 400 yards allowed (431, actually) — didn’t hadn’t the machismo to accept that final blessing.

After the game, O’Connell wanted to rip Cousins ​​for throwing under the sticks, for not throwing to any of the “eligible three” beyond first down, and he almost did…but the coach then avoided.

Yes, Kirk’s nearly hopeless throw at Hockenson was decisive, but it wasn’t in the same category of absurdity as the third and an O’Connell burst to end the Game’s second Vikings drive. .

They had swept the field for a touchdown on the first possession, and appeared to be in good flow with third-and-1 at the start of the second practice, when they tried a trick play that had Justin Jefferson throwing Cousins. in the left. apartment, where Cousins ​​was supposed to be from… who in Les Steckel’s name knows?

After watching in the ever-popular stunned disbelief, I went to an excellent and well-reasoned football journalist – ESPN’s Kevin Seifert – and voiced my opinion:

“There have been many games played since the invention of American football and this was the worst play call ever made in any of them.”

Seifert did not disagree.

A whole bunch there, coach and team. Even the gods eventually had to abandon you.

startribune Gt Itly

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