EAGAN, Minn. — Less than two minutes remaining, opponent has a goal-to-go possession and the opportunity to tie the game.
Anyone who knows Harrison Smith — or has seen a snap at any point of his nine seasons — would know how much he'd want to be on the field.
The Vikings All-Pro safety, however, was confined to Minnesota's locker room, forced to watch his team make a goal-line stand without him.
Smith was ejected by the league office with 1:05 remaining in the first half.
Officials in Houston penalized him for a hit after a catch down the middle of the field by Jordan Akins for a gain of 26. Akins entered concussion protocol after the rapid-fire play and did not return.
"I didn't [expect to be ejected], and I didn't even really think about it until they were kind of taking a while, and I was like, 'Oh wow, that's like a possibility now,' " Smith explained Friday in a video conference. "I was just trying not to act crazy or anything. I didn't want to make it worse than it had already been made. We still had a football game to play. George [Iloka] came in and played great, and we got the win. It's definitely weird watching games from the locker room, but it's how it is."
Smith explained Friday that he tried to get his head/helmet away from the play, lower his target location and use his shoulder, but Akins also lowered his head at the end of the play.
"Obviously, I wasn't a fan of it. I thought I did kind of what I could do while still being an active football player on the defensive side of the ball," Smith said. "To avoid those things, tried to lower the target. Tried to tilt my head out. But that's just kind of how we're seeing things go.''
Head Coach Mike Zimmer vehemently defended Smith on Sunday, and Co-Defensive Coordinators Adam Zimmer and Andre Patterson spoke about it Thursday.
"Well, I just think that's such a bang-bang play that Harrison's got to react to what he sees. He is not trying to be dirty. He is not a dirty player," Adam Zimmer said. "He was just trying to make a play on the football, and truth be told, when I look at the replay, I think he got his shoulder in there below his head. I don't think you use that as a teaching tool; I think it's just an unfortunate circumstance that happened in the game. The officials have to make calls bang-bang, on the spot, and that's a tough one that went against us, but I trust Harrison to make the right play whenever he's out there."
Patterson described the difficulty that defenders have on similar plays down the middle of the field.
"I don't know what you tell them to do – let the guy catch the ball? I mean, I really don't know what you tell a guy to do. Unless you tell him, 'Just let the guy catch the ball and then tag him.' I mean, that's all he can do," Patterson said. "He was trying to tackle the guy low, he wasn't going for his head, and the receiver braced his head to brace for contact. What do you tell a guy to do? That's the hard part. Do you tell a guy not to be aggressive and not to play the game full-speed? He's stuck between a rock and a hard place there."
The disqualification occurred almost eight years to the date of Smith getting an early exit from his fifth pro game. After an Antoine Winfield interception early in the second quarter, a fracas occurred between Vikings and Titans players on Oct. 7, 2012. An official initiated contact with Smith, and he pushed back. Minnesota wound up winning that one 30-7, and Smith emerged by earning a well-respected reputation around the league.
Friday's session with reporters was informative and entertaining. It included an explanation of why he's grown his hair out, a reference to The Last Days of American Crime (it's a movie with a 0 percent score from Rotten Tomatoes) and the fact that he received a letter from the NFL on Friday announcing the league's plans to fine him $15,000 for the play against Houston.
"I just got it today. It was a nice 15 [thousand dollars], which I don't know exactly how they come to those numbers, either," Smith said. "I've been fined worse in a preseason game before without getting ejected, so I'm not sure what the formula is. It will be interesting. I'll appeal it and see how they want me to play there or if they don't want me to play there. I think having some logic behind it would be nice.
"At the end of the day, they can lower it or whatever, based off how they are feeling, so it will be interesting to see how I'm told I should play that or not play it," he added.