Don't be in hurry to back Vikings visionary Green Coach won despite showing no sense of urgency indeed, no sense at all

On the line

January 02, 1998|By Gerald Strine | Gerald Strine,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Fourth-and-seven at their 40, trailing 22-13 with 3: 51 to play.

On third down, the Minnesota Vikings had chosen to run Robert Smith over right tackle for a yard or two. Randall Cunningham was so slow getting his team into a hurry-up offense -- the "drive" had started with about seven minutes left -- that ABC-TV's Mike Patrick and Joe Theismann were literally screaming for the Vikings to realize the urgency of the situation.

And what did coach Dennis Green do on fourth down? He punted! It was one of the great give-up calls in NFL history. For the Vikings to win, they now would need the complete, unabashed cooperation of the New York Giants.

And, in Saturday's NFC wild-card game, they got it! Green apparently knew that, after his team drew within 22-20, New York's Chris Calloway would mishandle the onside kick and Chris Walsh would recover. He had to know it, or else he never would have punted on fourth-and-seven from his 40 trailing by nine points with less than four minutes remaining.

All of which makes Green something really special. He's not only a good coach, but he's also clairvoyant!

Naturally, once the Giants (favored by 4, carrying $100 of my mythical bankroll) gave up the touchdown that changed the score from 22-13 to 22-20, I immediately quit rooting for New York and shifted my allegiance to Minnesota. The Giants had failed to cover the spread. So, the heck with them. Their losing straight up, and thus being eliminated from the playoffs, was, under the circumstances, kind of satisfying.

Still, it was no way to start the playoffs.

This week's picks

(All bets in mythical dollars)

Vikings at 49ers (-14): The 49ers defeated the Vikings, 28-17, as nine-point favorites in San Francisco four weeks ago. That was Cunningham's first start, subbing for the injured Brad Johnson. Maybe Cunningham has more confidence now, after his long layoff. Just don't bet on it.

The 49ers will continue to miss Garrison Hearst, who has been out since Nov. 30 with a broken collarbone. Hearst gave San Francisco a legitimate running attack.

The number makes a serious mythical wager on this contest out of the question. If, for instance, the Vikes get an early turnover and go up 7-0, anyone backing San Francisco would need three touchdowns while keeping the visitors scoreless just to get even. But I can't take Minnesota unless Green were to call and tell me he has had a vision that San Francisco leads by 17 with 6: 51 left, and it's fourth-and-seven for the Vikings at their 40, and he's sending in the punting team!

Take San Francisco for $10. That's right, $10.

Patriots at Steelers (-7): Pittsburgh won, 24-21, in overtime in Foxboro on Dec. 13 as a one-point underdog after Drew Bledsoe threw a late, lamented pass to a 283-pound defensive end wearing black and gold. The interception turned a Patriots victory into a miserable defeat.

Last year in the second round of the playoffs, New England, playing at home, drubbed Pittsburgh, 28-3. Now the roles are reversed. Jerome Bettis is healthy. Curtis Martin isn't. Both defenses will play well.

If Bledsoe gets good protection he has the receivers who can beat the Steelers' very beatable secondary. If he doesn't, and Pittsburgh's pressure gets to him, Bledsoe might retreat so far on his rollout to the right that he would fade right out of Three Rivers.

Take Pittsburgh for $100.

Buccaneers at Packers (-14): Another game where the big number makes a serious play unpalatable. The Bucs covered at Lambeau on Oct. 5 as eight-point underdogs, losing, 21-16. The Packers covered Dec. 7 in Tampa, winning, 17-6, as 3 1/2 -point favorites when Trent Dilfer suffered an ankle injury and missed half the game.

These are two of the four best defenses in the league. The Bucs stopped Dorsey Levens in both regular-season matchups. Gilbert Brown & Co. will keep Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott in check.

That makes it Brett Favre vs. Dilfer, an MVP against a young quarterback still learning on the job. Green Bay loves the cold. Tampa Bay has this temperature thing about 40-something.

Take the Packers, temperately, for $50.

Broncos at Chiefs (-1 1/2 ): Kansas City was a four-point underdog Nov. 16 at Arrowhead Stadium when it upset the Broncos, 24-22, on a last-second field goal from 54 yards. Denver should have won, dominating the first half. The game was a turning point for both squads.

Now, Elvis Grbac is coming back from a fractured clavicle and Terrell Davis has sore ribs to go along with a recently separated shoulder. Denver knew Davis would have to be at his best throughout the playoffs if they were to get to the Super Bowl. Yet they ran him 31 times in three quarters against Jacksonville last week!

Neither Marty Schottenheimer nor Mike Shanahan, both good coaches, can be trusted in the postseason. Grbac doesn't scare Rich Gannon does, scrambling. I'm going with Denver, but All-Pro tight end Shannon Sharpe must come out of his shell and Rod Smith has to hang onto John Elway's passes, something he couldn't do in Pittsburgh or San Francisco.

Take Denver for $150.

The numbers

Last week's record: 3-1. Net for week: plus $190.

Season record: 52-46-5. Net for season: plus $995.

Pub Date: 1/02/98

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