By HCR Staff | Oct, 31, 2018
Every game has its moment when momentum permanently shifts in favor of one side. Some moments occur later than others, but in Sunday night’s Saints-Vikings game, that moment came on the first drive of the second half. Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer decided to go for a fourth-and-1 from his own 45-yard line. The attempt failed. That alone didn’t completely swing the momentum, but we focus on this particular call because of the context around it.
Everyone should play to win the game, rather than just not to lose. That’s the mentality the 4-2-1 Vikings needed against the 5-1 Saints and that’s the mentality they had. The Minnesota defense was playing very well, limiting Drew Brees to just 120 passing yards and inducing his first pick of the season. The defense also held an explosive Saints offense to just one play over 20 yards. The offense came out with a similar mentality, with Kirk Cousins taking advantage of a shaky Saints’ secondary. It was clearly not a ground and pound type of game. All this sounds like it should have been a blowout by Minnesota. Not so fast.
Turnovers were the Achilles’ heel for the Vikings. They held a 13-10 lead late in the second quarter, and when they picked off Brees it was an opportunity to take a two-possession lead into halftime. But when Vikings receiver Adam Thielen coughed up the football in the red zone, Marshon Lattimore took it back 54 yards. Adding insult to injury, the Vikings drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The Saints started at the Minnesota 18 and punched it into the end zone in two plays to quickly turn the score around 17-13. This was where momentum started shifting in favor of the Saints, but it was the calls that followed this sequence that sealed it for New Orleans.
In a matter of minutes, the Vikings went from a potential 10-point halftime lead to a 4-point halftime deficit. Did this source of frustration affect Zimmer’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 45 so early in the second half?
Zimmer told his team before the game he’d come out aggressive and his offense faced any reasonable fourth-and-short, he’d go for it. His game plan may have been influenced by the events that transpired prior to the end of the first half.
The score was just 17-13 with almost two full quarters to play. The defense was effectively shutting down Brees and the Saints offense, and the offense wasn’t struggling. If Zimmer punted here, that would back the Saints up significantly, and in a close game winning the field position battle could be the blueprint for victory. Instead, the Vikings went for it, using a quick pass to the middle that was knocked away. The decision to go for it was unnecessary, but the play call was also contentious. The Vikings have one of the biggest backs in the league in Latavius Murray at 6-3, 230, and he already had a short touchdown run in the game. But the conversion was unsuccessful and — to make matters worse — the Saints took possession with a short field and added a field goal for a 20-13 lead. They went on to win by a final of 30-20.
This fourth-down decision proved to be the turning point in the game. It was an unnecessary risk given the score and time left in the game. After the Saints scored, the Vikings hurt themselves again with a pick six that handed the Vikings their third loss. Zimmer’s aggressive game plan may have paid off on another fourth-and-short later in the game, but this was not the time for it.