EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — In the moments immediately after Sunday’s unraveling in Indianapolis, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier acknowledged the obvious, admitting his team had set its own booby traps in a 23-20 loss to the Colts.
Little by little, the Vikings came undone with penalty after questionable penalty after “My goodness, what in the world was he thinking?” penalty.
When asked to explain how so many mistakes piled up, Frazier shrugged with a blank stare.
“I don’t know,” he said from a podium inside Lucas Oil Stadium. “We have to go back and look at what we’re doing and try and figure out what we have to do better.”
So Monday provided Phase 2 of “The Great Penalty Inquisition.” And this time Frazier was asked what can be done to rectify such problems going forward.
“You keep harping on the importance of not doing things that can be self-inflicted,” he said.
The easiest reaction to Sunday’s flag fest is to blame the coaching staff. It’s a logical path to go down after nine players drew 11 penalties, many of the bone-headed variety.
The Vikings were versatile with their blunders. They committed five offensive penalties for 50 yards, four on defense for 30 yards and two more on special teams for 25 yards.
With that many miscues, the evidence points to a squad that’s disorderly and unfocused in key moments.
But where is that thin line between coaching awareness and discipline and players exhibiting it?
Rookie left tackle Matt Kalil, often lauded for his aptitude, delivered a late hit to a defender 30 yards away from where quarterback Christian Ponder had just run out of bounds.
And Jared Allen, a four-time Pro Bowler, dived after a quarterback running out of bounds 15 yards shy of the first-down sticks on third down.
Allen’s penalty was the highest profile example of a usually reliable standout erring. And it provided the Colts with a new set of downs that they eventually turned into three points.
“I like his effort, like what he was trying to get accomplished,” Frazier said Monday. “Just have a little awareness of where you are. … We coach them to play hard. And what Jared was doing on that particular play, that’s exactly what you want to see from an effort standpoint. But there is a balance. You want to play smart. You have to have a little recognition in certain situations, and (recognize) when you are possibly crossing that line.”
Inevitably, Monday’s discussions shifted toward the replacement refs, with several players adamant the flags they drew were bogus.
Receiver Percy Harvin questioned the offensive pass interference penalty he incurred after getting tangled with Colts safety Antoine Bethea on a fourth-quarter deep ball. Harvin, who labeled the flag “a terrible call,” stared at the refs waiting for an explanation.
“He didn’t say anything,” Harvin said. “He was just looking at me. I was looking for what he was talking about and he didn’t give me anything.”
Left guard Charlie Johnson, meanwhile, might have had the most legitimate beef, flagged for holding on the Vikings’ opening drive when replays show he executed a solid block.
“It was not a hold,” Johnson said. “Absolutely not a hold.”
That penalty washed away a 9-yard Adrian Peterson run that would have given the Vikings a first down at the Colts 21. Instead it was second-and-12 from the 40 and they eventually settled for a field goal when momentum for a potential touchdown march seemed to be building.
At the end of a narrow loss, the sting intensifies.
“That’s what makes me so angry,” Johnson said. “We came out moving the ball. And for a drive like that to get stalled out on something that’s not a penalty is ridiculous. That was bad.
“To me, it seems like they’re maybe trying to call something so they can say, ‘Oh, something happened. We better call something.’ I think the speed of the game may be tripping them up. Some of the things that are being called you never see called.”
On Sunday, 11 penalty calls — good, bad and everything in between — left the Vikings with ample frustration.