The Vikings’ offensive misery, as broken down by Tony Romo

Tony Romo has quickly ascended to the top of the heap in terms of NFL broadcast analysts since being hired by CBS before the 2017 season. Luckily for Vikings fans — but maybe not the Vikings — Romo missed the cut in his dual career as an aspiring pro golfer and was available to work Sunday’s broadcast during Minnesota’s 16-6 loss to the Bears.

Romo offered sharp assessments throughout of the Vikings’ offense. Here are six that I gleaned from re-watching the game Monday (I did it so you don’t have to):

1 — “For Chicago and Minnesota because they’re so good on defense it lets you breathe. If you can get the lead early as a play caller it completely changes the game on both sides of the ball. … You don’t have to get this play. You don’t have to get this third down. You can be efficient.”

Romo said that after the Bears chewed up half the first quarter on the way to taking a 7-0 lead, and it’s worth repeating: In their last six losses, many in marquee matchups dating back to the middle of last season, the Vikings have fallen behind by double-digits before they had any points on the board. This team is built to play with a lead, but not from behind. Many teams are, of course, but that’s particularly true when you build around a running game and defense.

2 — “It’s a different offense you’re seeing out of Minnesota and Kirk Cousins now … I actually love it. I think this is exactly how this team should be built right now. (Dalvin) Cook is amazing. They run fullbacks. Two tight ends. Three tight ends.”

It’s worth noting that Romo approves of the way the Vikings are playing, and upon further review the first half was not quite as miserable as I remembered. The Vikings only had two drives and moved the ball OK both times. Once Cousins missed Adam Thielen on a deep shot on third down at midfield and on the other Stefon Diggs fumbled in Chicago territory. After the Thielen play, Romo said:

“When you look at other angle you’re like, ‘boy, you should have those,’ but it’s tough. Great design, take your shot and move on.”

3 — “If he’s able to do this — extend the play on third down with the way they run the football and play defense normally — if he can make some of these plays and move the chains, this team is really good. … That’s what you need to see out of Kirk Cousins because they’re going to run the football and run it a lot.”

That came after Cousins eluded a rush and made a nice pass for a first down. The problem is, that’s not really where Cousins generally has proven to be at his best. On the day, the Vikings were OK percentage wise (38) on third down conversions, but that was via 5 makes on 13 tries. That’s a slim margin for error and leads to a lot of stalled possessions.

4 — “Cousins has had trouble holding onto that football. … If you have trouble holding onto the football, Mack is going to at some point make you uncomfortable and see if you have changed.”

After the strip sack on the opening play of the third quarter, which gave Chicago a short field the Bears cashed in for a field goal and a 13-0 lead. Cousins’ fumbles are a known problem, but when you combine them with the other things ailing the offense against quality defenses the turnovers are magnified.

5 — “Kirk Cousins is going to be upset with himself later. Watch how open Cook is going to be … that’s up the sideline and might be a touchdown.”

Romo with a good dissection of a missed opportunity on a third and short in the third quarter that ended with an incomplete pass and stalled drive. Perhaps skittish (and rightfully so) from a Bears pass rush that was all over him most of the day, Cousins didn’t see Cook open early on the left side. Cousins instead flushed out to the right and had to throw the ball away. It’s maybe less obvious than a deep ball that doesn’t hit, but it’s just as damaging.

6 — “This is exactly what I think Minnesota should have done on the series before. It should have been no-huddle. Obviously the other stuff wasn’t working. … Let Cousins be what he’s done most of his career. Get the ball out of his hands and get up fast.”

On the Vikings’ TD drive in the latter half of the fourth quarter, which was too little, too late. Romo thought the Vikings needed to abandon their game plan a little earlier than they did. I think most fans would agree.

Overall, Romo pretty much nailed it. The Vikings’ system — a work in progress through just four games — is fine in theory, and they have the personnel to run first to set up the pass. But it’s a hard way to play when they fall behind, and in those situations they need better decisions from Cousins, better play from the offensive line and more creativity on offense when the game plan isn’t working.

Controversial pass interference decisions define Packers’ loss to Eagles

The NFL has already retrained us, and not in a good way, on how to watch and react to an otherwise very entertaining game.

That’s the big-picture takeaway from the Eagles’ 34-27 victory over the Packers on Thursday (one that obviously did the Vikings a favor as it bumped previously undefeated Green Bay to 3-1, but also one that re-established that an Oct. 13 home game against Philadelphia will be a challenge).

I didn’t start watching live until the fourth quarter, so I’ll circle back to what were perhaps the most controversial calls that happened earlier in the game.

But here’s the part where I’ve already been retrained: The Packers were driving for what looked like an inevitable tying touchdown late. It was 2nd-and-goal from the Eagles’ 3 in the final minute. Aaron Rodgers threw a quick slant intended for Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Defensive back Craig James — who spent some time with the Vikings last season — broke on the ball and appeared to arrive a little early with Valdes-Scantling. The ball deflected into the air, where Nigel Bradham intercepted it to seal the game.

No flags. Game over … until I saw the replay and immediately thought: “Uh-oh. That sure might get overturned by replay.” Troy Aikman, working the Fox broadcast, wondered the same thing as the slow-motion replay showed James arriving a split-second early and certainly impacting Valdes-Scantling’s ability to make the catch.

To my surprise (shock?) the camera very soon cut to the Eagles taking a kneel-down snap. Not only was there no overturn, it wasn’t even reviewed (which would have originated from the booth since it was in the final two minutes).

Here’s the thing: I’m glad it wasn’t, and not for any competitive reasons. The idea of a bang-bang play like that getting overturned after officials watching it live let it go still doesn’t feel right to me — kind of like how baseball replays that overturn a call because a base runner’s foot popped off the bag by an inch bother me, too.

It certainly wasn’t as egregious as the Saints/Rams NFC title game play that set this whole pass interference replay mess in motion.

But the game-ending play was hardly the first or even most controversial pass interference-related play of the game.

Earlier in the game, both the Packers and Eagles separately challenged non-calls on what looked to be defensive pass interference. In both cases, it could be argued that the plays met the threshold for “clear and obvious” visual evidence to overturn and award a flag. Neither play was overturned. And again, I guess if they’re going to err on either side I’m glad it’s not on the side of overturning every bang-bang call.

The larger point, though, is how the new rule is already retraining us to react to an NFL game in a way that detracts from the flow, leads to more whining and puts officials under a microscope even more.

Allowing for review only leads to more outrage — and reinforces the idea that the only thing “clear and obvious” about reviewable pass interference is that it’s “clear and obvious” people have different ideas of what meets the threshold.

“I really don’t know what pass interference is anymore,” said Packers coach Matt LaFleur, who also watched replay overturn an Eagles offensive pass interference penalty to allow a TD to stand. In reference to his failed challenge, LaFleur said, “It was clear and obvious to me, but I’m not the one making the decision.”

When you over-legislate a judgment call, you move out of “these things even out” territory into “we got hosed” territory quickly as a fan or coach. That’s not a particularly fun way to watch a game.

Bye, Twins: Cleveland TV analyst Jensen Lewis says congrats after regrettable August tweet

Cleveland won three games of a four-game series against the host Twins from Aug. 8-11, then walked off Boston on Aug. 12 for a 6-5 victory while the Twins were idle.

After that victory over the Red Sox, Cleveland was a half-game up in the American League Central race — the first time since mid-April that the Twins didn’t at least have a share of the division lead at the end of a day.

Jensen Lewis, a former Cleveland pitcher turned TV co-host/analyst for the Indians’ pregame and postgame shows, posted a now memorable tweet: “Bye, @Twins,” with the AL Central standing also displayed.

The insinuation of course was that now that the preseason favorite Indians had overtaken the Twins in the standings, they would leave them in the rear-view mirror. (And to be fair, at the time, there might have been just as many Minnesota fans than Cleveland fans, if not more, that believed such a thing to be true).

Alas, the Cleveland lead lasted about exactly 24 hours. The Twins won on Aug. 13 and Cleveland lost as Minnesota retook the division lead. It had expanded to 4.5 games in favor of the Twins by the end of August, and despite some tension heading into a three-game series in Cleveland in mid-September (where the Twins took two of three), it never dipped below 3.5 games en route to Wednesday’s clinch.

Lewis has taken plenty of heat from Twins fans in the mean time. In a sincere peace offering of sorts, Lewis had a much different tweet after the dust had settled Wednesday night.

In an interesting bit of symmetry, by the way, 2010 was the final season of Lewis’ playing career.

Five reasons the Twins’ clinch Wednesday was meant to be

A Twins AL Central title chase that felt somewhere between inevitable and interminable for the last month ended abruptly Wednesday night. A quick Twins rally at Detroit. A Cleveland loss a couple hours later. Magic number from two to zero.


It could have happened in any number of ways, but the more I thought about it the more it seemed like Wednesday was perfect. Here are five reasons the way the night unfolded proved it was meant to be:

*The clinch happened on the road: Sure, it would have been more fun if Target Field fans could have shared in the excitement of the clinch. But really, this Twins team has been all about excellence on the road. Minnesota is now an absurd 52-25 away from Target Field.

You’ll recall the 1987 Twins were 29-52 on the road, and this year’s Twins have by far the best road record in the majors. Nobody else has fewer than 31 road losses, and the Twins will finish with at most 29 even if they lose these last four relatively meaningless games. FSN flashed a graphic Wednesday noting that the Twins only had one losing road trip all season. That’s consistency.

*It highlighted a key Twins strength and a Cleveland weakness in terms of opposition: The Twins are now 13-5 against Detroit and 38-15 overall against the three weak teams in the AL Central — the White Sox, Royals and Detroit (listed in order of weakness). Cleveland took care of business against Detroit and Kansas City (30-8 combined and even won the season series against the Twins (10-9).

But Wednesday’s loss to the White Sox dropped Cleveland’s record against Chicago to just 8-10 this season. The Twins went 13-6 against the White Sox. It’s a little too reductive to say that’s the difference in the AL Central division race, but it’s not wrong to say Cleveland’s struggles against Chicago were a factor, making it wholly appropriate that it was the White Sox who eliminated Cleveland from the division race and put a serious dent in its wild card hopes (Cleveland is 1.5 games behind Tampa and 2 behind Oakland, and Baseball Reference says they have just a 15% chance of making the playoffs now).

*Bombas: The two biggest hits Wednesday were naturally home runs — Luis Arraez’s two-run blast that put the Twins ahead 2-1 and Eddie Rosario’s two-run shot that gave them breathing room. Those two put the season bomba counter at 299. The Yankees, by the way, are stuck on 299 after being shut out Wednesday (a loss that almost assured that the Twins will play the Yankees in the postseason again). The Twins play four more times and the Yankees just three the rest of the regular season. Maybe Wednesday provided the surge needed to claim the home run crown and record?

*Resilience: Comebacks and steadiness in the face of pressure/adversity have been hallmarks of this Twins team. So it was only fitting that they needed a late-inning rally to grab the victory that led to their clinch.

*Unlikely heroes: As much as 2019 has been about known commodities taking a step forward, it has also been about players coming almost completely out of nowhere to make big contributions. Look no further than Wednesday’s two biggest heroes — Arraez and starting pitcher Randy Dobnak, both rookies who started the season in the minors — as prime examples.

Dobnak was pitching for the Utica Unicorns of the United Shore Professional Baseball League two years ago. Seriously, that seems like a harmless lie you use to pad your resume — proficient in Microsoft Xcel. Pitched in the United Shore League — to get a foot in the door. Now he might be in line to start a playoff game after pitching the Twins to a win in the clincher.

Amazing. But so, so fitting.

Feel-good story of ‘beer money’ sign turns sour when racist tweets surface

What was in the running for feel-good story of the year has turned into a complicated, layered mess that will make you evaluate everything about how we live right now.

So, pretty much like everything that’s happened in 2019.

But still, this one is special. To recap: Iowa State was the on-campus site of ESPN’s College GameDay on Sept. 14 before the Cyclones played rival Iowa.

Carson King, an Iowa State fan, held up a sign that said his Busch Light supply needed to be replenished and included his Venmo account information for people to send him money. And … people took him seriously — so seriously that more than $1 million has poured into his account.

King decided he would donate the money to a children’s hospital in Iowa. Busch Light said they would give him free beer for a year. The story became a viral sensation, and everyone was happy.

Until … the Des Moines Register, in the course of doing a longer story about King, discovered that in 2012 — when he was 16 — he had a pair of racist posts on Twitter.

The paper decided to include that information in the story. King was contrite and embarrassed about it, telling the paper: “That’s not something that I’m proud of at all.”

The Register put out a lengthy explanation on why it decided to publish the information about the tweets, but the paper was feeling plenty of heat for its decision.

Adding to the complicated story: the reporter who wrote the story on King has his own unsavory Twitter history and has started deleting tweets.

The good news in all this is that the children’s hospital is still going to get its big donation.

King isn’t getting his beer. And nobody quite knows how to feel, including me. I’m left, I guess, with a mixed bag of thoughts:

*Should everything we put on social media be fair game as part of our permanent record? Probably not, though it’s hard to ignore things that exist in writing. The fact that King was 16 and still in high school at the time makes it even tougher to reconcile. If a juvenile criminal record can be wiped away at a point after someone turns 18, is it fair to still be held accountable for something on Twitter.

*”I’m glad I didn’t have Twitter when I was 16″ is true, but doesn’t excuse a racist tweet. That said, going back and digging up a tweet from 7 years ago is highly questionable. If you find it and ignore it, though, are you doing readers a disservice by offering an incomplete picture of a subject?

*King seems to be handling this about as well as he can. “I cannot go back and change what I posted when I was a 16-year-old,” he said in a statement. “I can apologize and work to improve every day and make a meaningful difference in people’s lives.”

*If you think King was done a disservice by having his tweets reported on initially, does it simply serve to perpetuate that disservice by writing about it again here? Ultimately, I decided the full-picture discussion was one worth having because — as noted early — it absolutely has to do with how we’re living in 2019.

Must-see: Ex-Twin Brian Dozier shirtless, dancing, celebrating a clinch

Brian Dozier was on a lot of bad baseball teams early in his career, logging more than 3,000 plate appearances for the Twins from 2012-16 and losing at least 90 games in four of those five seasons.

Since then, though, he’s been doing a lot of celebrating — first with the playoff-bound Twins in 2017, then with the Dodgers after a trade in 2018 and now with the Nationals in 2019.

Anyone will tell you that winning never gets old, and that seems to particularly be the case for Dozier. Whether all that losing makes winning that much sweeter or whether ol’ Brian just likes to cut loose, he is becoming an expert at celebrating.

That brings us to Tuesday, when Dozier’s Nationals clinched a wild card berth by defeating the Phillies. The postgame celebration was a typical scene of jubilation, but Dozier went the extra mile with a shirtless, Budweiser-soaked dance in the winning clubhouse. But don’t take my word for it! Here’s video:

Dozier has had a decent season for the Nats, posting a .758 OPS with 19 homers. That will gain him zero MVP votes, but in terms of the MVC — Most Valuable Celebration — he is a unanimous pick.

Picking the worst of Case Keenum’s five turnovers Monday isn’t easy

Whew, there was a lot to unpack from a Monday Night Football game that looked, on first glance, like a dud.

Former Vikings QB Case Keenum committed five turnovers (three interceptions, two fumbles), cooling off the hot take artists who tried to revive the Keenum vs. Kirk Cousins debate after Cousins outplayed him in 2018 but trailed him in the first one-eighth of this season.

Keenum’s Total QBR on Monday was a dismal 17.3 (No. 31 out of 32 passers in Week 3), while Cousins was sixth at 81.2. Last year, Cousins was No. 14 while Keenum was No. 29.

It’s OK to love everything Keenum accomplished in 2017 while still understanding that all the evidence suggested it wasn’t sustainable.

In any event, five turnovers Monday gave folks plenty of chances to decide which was the worst.

Matt Harmon from Yahoo thinks this might be the worst interception he’s ever seen a QB throw. That seems a bit harsh, but triple coverage is a tough thing to beat.

Most of America decided that it was Keenum’s fifth and final turnover that sealed the honor (and Washington’s fate) as his worst. The scene: 4th-and-1 in the red zone, Washington trailing 28-15 with 7 minutes left. Keenum tries a QB sneak from the 15, and holds the ball out to extend it over the first down line. That works on the goal line, where the play is done when the ball crosses the plane. But at the 15, this can happen:

By the way, that’s also an excellent play by the Bears’ Danny Trevathan to force the fumble, but it wasn’t my favorite play of his on the night. Watch him here (No. 59) do a hesitation move for a sack.

Apparently that’s called a “coffee house” rush. Who knew?

The Vikings will want to note the film on that one. They get the Bears next week in Chicago in another chance for Kirk Cousins to prove his mettle.

Wait, why is the Vikings at Bears game on CBS?

Longtime sports broadcaster Jim Nantz is known for many things, but perhaps his most recognizable line and assignment comes from his work with The Masters — the major golf tournament he refers to as “a tradition unlike any other.”

In one of Nantz’s other major assignments for CBS, however — working as the lead play-by-play voice for NFL along with analyst Tony Romo — there has been far more evolution than tradition over the years.

One of the more recent wrinkles to the NFL broadcast schedule happened in 2014, when CBS and Fox were given the ability to “cross-flex” games into the coveted 3:25 p.m. national slot, which the networks split during the season.

Simply put, cross-flexing allowed the networks to scoop up coveted games for the national slot regardless of whether they were AFC or NFC matchups.

Previously, CBS broadcast all the Sunday AFC games (and games featuring one team from each conference where the AFC team was on the road) while Fox had all the Sunday games between NFC teams and cross-conference matchups where the NFC team was on the road).

It was a little confusing, particularly to those of us who remember a simpler slate of NFL games (more on that in a minute), but there was a standard that you could quickly remember even if you forgot about it temporarily while searching for a game on Sunday.

Cross-flexing, though, means that two NFC teams might wind up playing on CBS. It’s happening more than ever this year, per Sports Video Group. It happened last week when the national matchup between two NFC foes, the Cowboys and Seahawks, was on CBS.

And more importantly to you, it is happening again this Sunday when the Vikings play at Chicago at 3:25 p.m. on CBS, with Nantz and Romo on the call.

Why cross-flex in the first place? Doesn’t it just seem confusing for an audience accustomed to having NFC games on Fox to have to search for them, however brief the search is?

Well, the Washington Post tackled the question in good detail last season when a Dallas/Washington game was on CBS. Per their story:

To understand how “cross-flexing” works, you have to start with the built-in imbalance between the NFC and AFC. Fox and CBS broadcast the same number of games annually, but their packages are not created equal. The NFC features prominent teams in big markets such as the Cowboys, Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers, giving it an inherent ratings advantage. That is reflected in the price of the deals: CBS pays $1 billion per year for the AFC, while Fox pays $1.1 billion for the NFC.

This isn’t the first time the Vikings were cross-flexed. In fact, a Vikings/Bears game from 2014, the first year of cross-flexing, was shipped to CBS. (The Vikings lost 21-13 at Chicago, which unfortunately for Minnesota has also been a tradition unlike any other. Minnesota is just 3-15 in road games against the Bears since 2001, though two of the wins came in 2015 and 2017 during division-winning seasons under Mike Zimmer).

It’s also a reminder that NFC games on CBS used to be the norm until 1994, when Fox took over the conference from CBS after outbidding the network for rights. CBS was out of the NFL game for four years until 1998, when it outbid NBC and became the network airing AFC games.

As someone who has watched the NFL on TV for almost 40 years, the evolution is amazing. The addition of a regular Thursday night game … a second Monday night game on opening week … a third Thanksgiving game … flexed games … they all create a seeming wall of football.

The Vikings will appear in five different networks this year (Fox, CBS, NBC, ESPN and NFL Network) and one streaming service (Amazon Prime Video). Some teams will play on four different days throughout the season (Thursday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, with six teams playing on Saturday, Dec. 21 TBA because they will be flexed into that date).

One of my clearest memories of watching football as a small kid was straining to stay awake for the halftime highlights from all the Sunday games during Monday Night Football (8 p.m. kickoff on ABC back then).

Now I watch highlights in real time on my phone, tablet, laptop — or on my TV, as long as I can figure out what channel the game I want to watch is on.

Hero saves children from fire, casually burns Eagles wide receiver

The Eagles lost 27-24 at home to Detroit on Sunday, dropping to 1-2 in a season filled with Super Bowl hopes. Wide receiver Nelson Agholor had a statistically strong game with a pair of TD passes that helped Philadelphia rally late before losing.

But he Agholor also had a costly fumble early in the game — and that came a week after he dropped a sure touchdown pass late in a close loss to the Falcons.

In a seemingly completely unrelated story, there was a dangerous fire in Philadelphia on Sunday night that required some quick thinking and heroic acts. A man interviewed on the scene said children had to be saved by being sent out windows.

And this is the point where our two stories collide out of nowhere.

To repeat: “My man just started throwing babies out the window, and we was catching them … unlike Agholor.”

Why yes, that is the most Philly soundbite one could imagine.

Destroying a myth: Twins’ formula — lots of homers, few steals — works in October, too

The Twins are one home run behind the Yankees entering the final week of play — 298 to 297 in the race to see which team will hold the record for most homers in a season, at least for the next 365 days.

Minnesota has six games left (the Yankees have just five), and all six are against the bottom-feeders of the AL Central. It’s a decent bet the Twins get the record. It would be a shame if they didn’t after all the talk of bombas this season, but it wouldn’t be a travesty.

The most important thing is winning — and we know the home run formula works. The top five teams in the majors this season in homers (Yankees, Twins, Astros, Dodgers and Oakland) are likely headed for the postseason, as are Nos. 7 and 8 (Atlanta and Milwaukee).

While the team home run record chase is very much wide open still, one thing is settled: The Twins will finish dead last in the majors in stolen bases. Our Phil Miller wrote about the diminishing art of the steal about a month ago, noting that a “predictable side effect” of all the Twins’ home runs was a decreasing emphasis on stealing bases.

“It’s better to [trot] around the bases than to run,” explained Eddie Rosario in the story, though several other factors from slow players to not wanting to make outs on the bases were cited as factors.

At the time of publication (Aug. 26), the Twins had a meager 26 stolen bases on the season. It is now almost a month later and the Twins have … 26 stolen bases. They have just three successful steals since the All-Star break, and even with other teams also slowing to a crawl the Twins stand out. The next-lowest total is San Francisco with 43 total steals, and the average MLB team has swiped 73 bags with a week to go. Even the lumbering Yankees have nabbed 55 bases, more than twice as many as the Twins.

The Twins have traded their “piranha” offense of nibble, nibble, nibble, score for a shark that takes big bites.

If you’re a baseball traditionalist, all these homers might seem strange to you. There’s also a chance you are worried that once October baseball rolls around, the Twins’ reliance on homers will be to their detriment.

Two things on that: First, it’s obviously nice to be able to score in multiple ways. Good example: LaMonte Wade Jr. basically stealing a run in extra innings against the White Sox on the last home stand by taking second on a fielder’s choice, third on a wild pitch that barely got six inches from the catcher and taking home on a medium-shallow fly ball. It tied the game, which the Twins ended up winning 9-8 with three more runs (mainly via sharp singles, the last on a bases loaded hit batter).

And second — perhaps more importantly — the statistical evidence actually shows that teams that rely on home runs fare BETTER in the postseason than those who don’t.

Sports researcher/statistician James Smyth did a great Twitter thread on this earlier in the year.

All the data is summarized nicely in a pair of tweets: As you’d expect, scoring drops in the postseason, but home runs drop at a much lower rate, so the impact of each homer is even greater, and the share of runs scored on them is higher than it is during the season.

And the conclusion: For some reason, home runs have been falsely accused of being an impediment to postseason success, as “small ball” is considered a more virtuous way to play. The “too many homers” myth just won’t go away.

The Twins hit a lot of home runs — almost certainly enough to get them to the playoffs and maybe enough to break their streak of 13 consecutive losses in playoff games, much of which was compiled by teams who relied more on small ball.