The hit was so uncharacteristic of Jared Allen.
The Minnesota Vikings defensive end has never been accused of being a dirty player, yet there he was, launching himself into Chicago Bears offensive lineman Lance Louis during an interception return by teammate Antoine Winfield on Sunday. The blindside blow ended Louis’ season and drew a $21,000 fine from the NFL.
Allen remained apologetic on Thursday for the results of the hit, but also was steadfast in his stance that he never intended to injure Louis and thought he made a clean football play.
“Just making a block on an interception,” Allen said. “Like I said before, it was never my intention to hurt a guy. I feel bad that he got hurt. That’s obviously never my intention. But ‘Toine’s coming up the sideline to make a play. I blocked the guy and sometimes bad things happen.”
Coach Leslie Frazier said Allen’s mistake was leaving his feet.
“You have to be careful about leaving your feet,” Frazier said. “Other than that, it was a good block. I didn’t think it was a vicious block.”
In a small way, Allen may have been taking his frustrations out on Louis in the third quarter after spending so much time chasing Bears quarterback Jay Cutler in vain. Even against a banged-up, makeshift offensive line, Allen was rarely able to get even a whiff of Cutler in a demoralizing 28-10 loss at Soldier Field.
The one chance he did get, he ended up a half-step away from Cutler before the QB zipped a 13-yard touchdown pass to Matt Spaeth in the second quarter that put the Bears up 25-3.
“I got chipped by a tight end coming in and missed it by a half-step,” Allen said. “That turns it from a sack, forced fumble to a touchdown. There was a couple times like that.”
For the guy who finished one sack shy of setting the single-season record a year ago, this season has been filled with close calls. Allen has just seven sacks this season and has gone three straight games without one, not the year he was hoping for when he talked about being the first player in league history to record two 20-sack seasons.
There are several reasons for the drop off, including falling behind early in games, which allows offenses to use short throws and maximum protections to keep the heat off their quarterbacks.
“If we can get a lead and force them to play from behind and take shots down field by being successful on first and second down, then you create some matchup things,” Allen said. “If not, it’s going to be a tough road.”
But Frazier insists Allen is still having a major impact on the game even if he’s not driving quarterbacks into the turf as often as he did last year.
“He’s no different than any other competitor. He wants to help our football team win and sometimes sacks help that to happen,” Frazier said. “It is frustrating, but at the same time, he knows where we are as a team and whatever it takes to help us to win, that’s what he wants to do.”
The Vikings (6-5) face a similar situation this week against the Packers (7-4), who have struggled to protect Aaron Rodgers just like the Bears had struggled to protect Cutler. Rodgers has been sacked more than any other quarterback in the league this season.
As the Vikings found out last week, some problems up front don’t automatically mean a feeding frenzy for Allen, Brian Robison and the rest of Minnesota’s accomplished defensive line.
“If you can get a lead when you’ve got a group of guys that can rush the passer, then you have a chance,” Frazier said. “But if it’s a game that’s in the balance or you’re behind, it’s hard to rush the passer.”
That said, the Vikings sure could use another big-time game from Allen against the Packers, a team he has tormented since joining the Vikings in 2008. Allen has sacked Rodgers 12½ times, more than any other quarterback, including a monster 4½-sack game in 2009.
“We need him to have a big game for us,” Frazier said. “He’s a guy that garners so much attention when he’s on the field. But it would be great to see one of those two- or three-sack games. But I’ve got a feeling they’re going to do some things to try to keep that from happening.”