Given the circumstances of Sunday afternoon's game at TCF Bank Stadium, it didn't seem like that strange an idea for Minnesota Vikings' head coach Mike Zimmer to take the wind rather than the football to start the overtime period against the St. Louis Rams. But it was an incredibly rare decision. How rare? How about this tidbit from Sports Illustrated's Peter King concerning the call.
In the 42 years since the NFL adopted overtime as a rule, this was the 530th OT game. Only 10 times had a coach not taken the ball if given the choice to start the extra period.
Mike Zimmer, going off of that number, was number 11. That means that, in all the overtime games in NFL history, the team winning the coin toss has refused to take the football a little bit more than two percent of the time. After hearing the decision, lots of people on the Twitters started having flashbacks to former Detroit Lions' head coach Marty Mornhinweg.
Mornhinweg's Lions, if you'll recall, won the coin toss in a 2002 game against the Chicago Bears, and rather than take the ball, he (allegedly) decided to take the wind and gave the Bears the ball first. The only issue with that is, according to Pro Football Reference's boxscore for the game, the wind in Champaign that day was a blustery. . .four miles an hour. The Bears marched straight down the field and got a 40-yard field goal to win the game, and a few weeks later Mornhinweg found himself unemployed.
According to King, the most recent occurrence of this happened two years ago in a game between the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots in Foxboro. Bill Belichick won the overtime coin toss and gave Denver the football first. In that case, much like yesterday, the call made a little more sense. . .the wind in Foxboro was blowing at 22 miles an hour and the wind chill was only slightly above zero. The Patriots forced Denver to punt twice, and with less than two minutes left in the extra session, Stephen Gostkowski hit a 31-yard field goal to give New England a 34-31 victory.
Going into the overtime period, 30 of the 36 points that had been scored in Sunday's game were scored by the team with the TCF Bank Stadium wind at their back. . .the exception was Todd Gurley's one-yard touchdown run at the end of the first quarter. Zimmer gave his defense a huge vote of confidence. . .and, quite frankly, probably surprised the Rams a little bit. . .by electing to not take the ball right away. Linval Joseph smothered Gurley on first down, and the Rams were eventually forced to punt. Johnny Hekker blasted a huge punt into the wind, but Marcus Sherels had an answer, taking the ball to midfield and, ultimately, setting the Vikings up for a victory.
Mike Zimmer's decision on Sunday was a rare one, to be sure. However, as more of this season goes by and the Vikings continue to win football games, Zimmer keeps looking more and more like a rare coach. It's hard to believe that so many other teams passed over him rather than give him an opportunity.