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Trick play backfires on Vikings

Falcons come back to winin overtime

MINNEAPOLIS

After weeks of covert drills and intense preparation, the Vikings unveiled their top-secret, super-duper, misdirection touchdown pass in the closing seconds on Sunday.

It was effective, exciting and against all known NFL laws.

The clandestine Randy Moss-to-Daunte Culpepper touchdown pass had been in the hopper for more than a month as coach Mike Tice waited for the perfect moment. He found it with about 30 seconds left.

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The play resulted in maximum disappointment. It was the perfect letdown.

Let's just say the Vikings didn't have a real good grasp of the play, or the rules that govern it. I discovered that afterward when I asked tackle Bryant McKinnie why he didn't report in as an eligible receiver so the offensive formation would be legal.

"What?" he said. "I don't know what you mean."

Hmmmmm. Steeerike one!

Of course, the formation still would have been legal if Moss had taken his stance directly at the line of scrimmage--"covering" the tackle, as they say--instead of several yards behind the line. But he didn't.

Steeerike two!

But even if Moss had lined up in the proper spot, as soon as he went into motion to come back and take the handoff he would have caused an illegal formation by leaving the tackle "uncovered."

Steeerike three!

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I'm going to go out on a limb and say the design was faulty.

Simple rule

The rule is simple: At the time the ball is snapped, the last man on either side of the line must be an eligible receiver. McKinnie doesn't qualify, unless he reports to the official as eligible. No one, not one coach, told him he had to make that declaration.

"It's been the rule for the 13 years I've been in the league," noted referee Ed Hochuli. "It's always been a rule."

The Vikings still don't get it.

"I wasn't satisfied," Culpepper said of the referee's explanation. "They made the call. There is nothing you can do about it now. I can't sit here and harp on it now."

But Daunte, the Vikings were guilty as sin.

"I thought it was six (points)," he said. "It was terrible it got called back like that."

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Interestingly enough, Tice said he was sure everything was kosher because, earlier in the morning, he showed the officials a diagram of the play. He says he was told that the formation was legal.

Unfortunately, Tice didn't have the jersey numbers of his players inscribed on his drawing. Instead, he just had a bunch of Xs and Os. Apparently, the officials assumed that Tice would know enough to have an eligible receiver at the tackle spot before sending Moss in motion.

False assumption.

Failure to communicate

"Miscommunication," Tice said, waving the same drawing he showed the officials. "I don't know what else to say. It cost us the game."

What an afternoon. First, we get chatty Ed Hochuli serving as referee. This guy thinks he's a lounge act. He turns on the microphone and talks all afternoon. Yak, yak, yak ... he can't just announce a penalty; he's got to give the reason and the theory behind it.

It's like being trapped with a telemarketer that you can't hang up on.

And we have the Vikings finally cutting down on their dumb mistakes, only to unveil that magnificent, illegal wonder play at the end. That certainly balanced the scales of mental improvement.

Falcons quarterback Michael Vick was worth the price of admission, however. The Vikings knew he was going to run. They spent all week preparing to try to stop him. They gave it their best shot, but couldn't.

Perhaps next week, if the game is on the line in Green Bay, the Vikings will run a play in which their running back hides the football by shoving it down his pants.

That could result in a big play. Until the officials call that one back, too.

There are some things you just can't do in the NFL. Most teams know enough not to try.

Tom Powers is a sports columnist with the St. Paul Pioneer Press. His column is distributed by Knight-Ridder Newspapers.

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