With the Dallas Cowboys driving late in Sunday night's contest, Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer called a timeout after his defense forced a third-and-16 following a tackle for loss. It was a smart timeout with 1:04 left and his team up 16-13 to preserve as much time as possible for the offense if/when the Cowboys scored.
It's what came after that initial timeout that became an issue.
The Vikings tried to call another timeout. By rule, back-to-back timeouts aren't allowed. Referees are instructed to ignore a consecutive timeout, but if they blow the whistle, it's a five-yard penalty for delay of game and loss of another timeout.
The third-and-16 became third-and-11. Then Minnesota allowed Ezekiel Elliott to take a short pass and power his way for 15 yards. First down, Dallas.
Now, instead of getting the ball back tied or at least with a timeout left, the Vikings -- who couldn't move the ball all game -- had 51 seconds to go 75 yards with no timeouts. It ended about as predictably as you could imagine, with Kirk Cousins under pressure heaving a fourth-down play out of bounds.
Following the 20-16 home loss, Zimmer took the blame for the back-to-back timeouts that cost his club.
"Yeah, I screwed up," Zimmer said, per the team's transcript. "I forgot that I called one. Somebody yelled at me. I knew the play they were running. Really the same play they hit down the middle against us for the long touchdown. So somebody said, 'Call timeout.' I did. The official wasn't supposed to grant it. They're supposed to not grant it. Anyway, it's not his fault. So (we) ended up getting a five-yard penalty."
The honesty from Zimmer is admirable, but it doesn't help the 3-4 Vikings, who have played down to their competition all season. Minnesota's four losses have all come by seven points or fewer. But the Vikings also needed a miraculous late-game drive to beat the winless Lions.
The season gets tougher for Minnesota with trips to the Baltimore Ravens and Los Angeles Chargers before a home date with the division-leading Green Bay Packers. If the struggles continue, Zimmer's already hot seat will become scorching before Thanksgiving.