The final moments of the Minnesota Vikings‘ overtime loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on NFL Network showed a potential rift between head coach Kevin O’Connell and defensive coordinator Brian Flores.
After a failed quarterback sneak on third down in overtime, the Vikings opted to try the tush push again in hurry-up.
Minnesota failed to get the yard they needed to extend their only chance at points in overtime. The Bengals went on to convert a field goal to secure a 27-24 victory on Saturday, December 16.
Flores was captured during the broadcast rushing to O’Connell’s side and urging him to call timeout before the failed fourth-down conversion. The on-air moment contributed to the scrutiny of O’Connell’s decision-making with the game on the line.
The Vikings head coach addressed the chaos of the moment and Flores’ counsel in a December 18 news conference, saying it was about confirming the spot of the ball and not the play call itself.
Brian Flores telling Kevin O’Connell to called timeout right before the failed fourth-down attempt. #vikings
— Ali Siddiqui (@asiddiqui15) December 17, 2023
Vikings’ Kevin O’Connell, Brian Flores on the Same Page During Failed 4th-Down Tush Push
After the Vikings’ first attempt at the tush push, the official near the Vikings’ sideline marked the ball beyond the first-down marker as O’Connell began preparing for a new series. Another official marked it behind the line, prompting replay officials to take another look.
O’Connell was told in his headset that officials in New York were taking another look at the play to confirm the spot of the ball, behind the first-down marker, was correct. They considered calling a timeout to give the officials more time to review the play before it was confirmed to be short.
O’Connell said that Flores, formerly the Miami Dolphins’ head coach and a strong candidate for next offseason’s hiring cycle, is in constant communication with him on gameday and Saturday’s game.
Despite the poor results, the two were in sync situationally, while O’Connell made the final offensive play call.
Here’s O’Connell’s full answer describing his thoughts and the stream of communication he was receiving on the play, per Star Tribune reporter Ben Goessling:
Flo, him and I were having dialogue in the headset at the time. Whenever you’re in overtime, all of those replays are handled by the officials and the replay assistant and possibly New York. So in those moments, we were making sure, kind of together collectively, that they had indeed taken a look at every angle, because we were getting some communication from the guys up top that maybe there was a view of it, that we might have converted the first down on that third- down opportunity.
They [the officials] informed me that it had been confirmed, meaning they had already gone to replay assist and collaborated with New York at the time when they were measuring with the chains. We felt like there was no sense of taking the timeout in that moment to give [the Bengals] more time when they did in fact tell us.
Flo was absolutely doing what I ask of him every game. I have constant dialogue about the situation of the game, and maybe our dialogue with the referees. We were just making sure that they had – we wanted to hear that word ‘confirmed,’ meaning that they had seen what they needed to see, taken a look at all the angles available to confirm that we indeed did not get the first down.
The side judge on our side did mark it beyond the line to gain, so I’m thinking we already had the first-and-10, and started thinking about that next sequence of downs. And then the judge on the other side marked it a little bit further back than that, making it fourth down. But you know, Bill Vinovich and his crew did a great job communicating in the moment that they were indeed looking at it and that they had confirmed the spot. And so when that happened there was no need for a timeout in that moment.
Kevin O’Connell’s Play Call Was Questionable
While the decision to not call timeout may be justified, O’Connell’s hurry-up tush-push call is worthy of scrutiny.
The Vikings coach detailed that the intention behind having 11 personnel, which includes three wide receivers, was to take advantage of the Bengals defense also having a smaller group on the field.
However, attempting the same play twice proved folly with Cincinnati’s defensive line breaching the Vikings interior and stopping Nick Mullens short of a first down.
O’Connell described that he anticipated Cincinnati to exploit a size advantage against center Garrett Bradbury, which is why he opted for the hurry-up call.
“There was a reason behind what we were trying to get done. It had some effectiveness earlier on in the game when we were able to do that, albeit off of tempo which was the preferred method,” O’Connell said. “I think in that situation, the best thing is always to get big, especially from the standpoint of the guys potentially pushing.
“We just didn’t get it done in that moment. We’ve been pretty successful with the sneak play and pretty successful overall in those short-yardage situations this year, but all that means absolutely nothing when you don’t get it done in that moment and inevitably it’s on me,” O’Connell added. “I got to give our guys the best possible chance to have success in that moment.”