Golden Tate on whether the Vikings took cheap shots at Detroit: "110 percent."— Kyle Meinke (@kmeinke) September 21, 2015
Obviously, any sort of dirty play from the opponents doesn't excuse the Lions poor performance, and it certainly wouldn't have changed the result of the game. However, take a look at what exactly Tate was talking about to see if the Vikings deserve some sort of punishment for their play.
Let's start with the obvious, the only play for which the Vikings were penalized for unnecessary roughness: Anthony Barr's shove of Matthew Stafford.
Barr spoke about his view of the play:
Anthony Barr flag roughing Stafford: "I made contact with him before he stepped out of bounds. That’s just football, in my opinion... CONT.— Chris Tomasson (@christomasson) September 21, 2015
More Anthony Barr: "But I understand the emphasis on player safety and especially QBs. So I’ve got to take that into account next time.''— Chris Tomasson (@christomasson) September 21, 2015
Here's the play:
As you can see, Barr's contact comes almost simultaneously as Stafford rolls out of bounds. In fact, when Barr first contacts Stafford, the quarterback is straddling the sideline:
So in terms of lateness, this play is right there in a grey area. However, this is an absolutely perfect example of unnecessary roughness. The rulebook states the following on late hits:
Note: Defensive players must make an effort to avoid contact. Players on defense are responsible for knowing when a runner has crossed the boundary line, except in doubtful cases where he might step on a boundary line and continue parallel with it.
This does not fall under the "doubtful cases" clause, because Stafford did not continue on after stepping out of bounds. The question is whether he was out of bounds when contact was made, and that is a bit unclear. But it doesn't matter. Look at Stafford's posture, he was giving up on the play. Regardless of whether this hit was late or not, it was absolutely unnecessary. And while there is nothing directly in the rulebook about contact with a runner who has given up on a play (without sliding), it does state that roughness is not limited to the direct examples listed in the rulebook. This was unquestionably unnecessary from Barr and rightfully penalized.
Earlier in the game, Stafford suffered a few hits that could ranged from hard to downright illegal.
The hit above took place early in the second quarter on a quick pass to Calvin Johnson. The play doesn't really look malicious but contact is clearly made to Stafford's head while he's in a defenseless position. That is a penalty the referees have been looking to crack down on in the last couple of years, but this one slipped through the cracks. Stafford was very slow to get up.
In the second half, Stafford endured another tough hit:
Again, Stafford receives contact high to his body, this time around his neck area. However, there's a huge difference: Stafford is not in a defenseless position here, as he is considered a runner. This is part of life as a quarterback who chooses not to slide. While this hit is brutal and likely hurt quite a bit, it is not illegal and not dirty.
Stafford wasn't the only player who took some questionable shots on Sunday. Johnson was also on the receiving end of an illegal hit:
One common theme I saw reviewing the game was Vikings' players finishing plays after the Lions had essentially given up. Here, Calvin is not really trying to pick up many extra yards, slows down and displays a "giving up" posture. Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes uses the opportunity to take a shot at Johnson. While Rhodes is definitely in his right to deliver a hit to an in-bounds Calvin, he delivers a blow to Johnson's head, leading with his helmet:
Again, this doesn't seem particularly malicious, but this is against the rules and it was certainly unnecessary.
Individually, these incidents don't point to a dirty performance from the Vikings. However, during the game, Minnesota showed a repetitive tendency to test the limits of late hits and often targeted their opponents toward the head. I can certainly see why Tate was frustrated watching the film after the game, but it's important to remember that I went out and looked for these specific infractions. If you're looking for dirty play, you can likely find some in any game. That being said, after a game in which his quarterback was pummeled, Tate wasn't really wrong in his assessment, either.
UPDATE: A few readers have noted that Stafford received an elbow to the head after making a tackle on a Justin Trattou, who intercepted his pass. It's hard to determine intent here, but you can watch the play here (at the 0:37 mark) and make your own judgement.