The Play Ivan Pace Wants to Have Back

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Joe Mixon is a very sturdy 6’1″, 220 pounds. If there was any doubt coming into the game about the RB’s power, there isn’t on the other side of the game. In particular, Ivan Pace will understand what Mixon is capable of doing.

One of the defining moments in Minnesota’s loss to Cincinnati arrived on a critical 4th-down play in the 4th quarter. There was less than eight minutes left on the clock and the Vikings were doing their utmost to hold onto their 17-10 lead. Mixon took the football across the goal line to even the score, leaving many to wonder if the outcome would have been different had Pace been able to make the play.

Ivan Pace, Joe Mixon, and The Bengals Loss

The Las Vegas effort prompted no shortage of praise for the UDFA linebacker.

Dec 10, 2023; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Minnesota Vikings linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. (40) celebrates after an interception against the Las Vegas Raiders in the second half at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The game-sealing interception, of course, stands out as an excellent play from Pace, but that’s not the only good thing he was able to do. The defender finished his day with 13 tackles to go alongside a sack and a TFL. So, a full day for the 23-year-old.

Pace continued to do plenty of good things in Cincinnati. He finished the day having piled up 9 tackles while playing 100% of the defensive snaps. The lingering memory of the game, though, may be his failed tackle attempt on Joe Mixon at the goal line.

Take a look:

At basically every level of football, linebackers put in reps practicing exactly this scenario. A hole opens up on the line scrimmage, meaning the LB needs to put his foot in the dirt to fill the gap. Almost always, the right move for the linebacker is to fill daylight. See a hole and shoot, don’t think. The wisdom is especially true in 4th and inches.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Minnesota Vikings
Oct 23, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings cornerback Akayleb Evans (21) and linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. (40) and Minnesota Vikings defensive end Dean Lowry (94) react after a fumble recovery against the San Francisco 49ers during the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Pace, to his credit, does exactly that. A sliver of room emerges and Pace makes his move. Even better is that he makes contact behind the line of scrimmage. Given that the play began with less than half a yard to go, the ball carrier would need to be stopped at or (more likely) behind the line of scrimmage to keep points off the board.

The issue came at the point of contact. Ivan Pace hits Joe Mixon hard. It didn’t matter too much, though.

Mixon maintains his balance and ends up working toward the end zone for the touchdown. An Evan McPherson extra point shortly thereafter tied the ball game. No single play determines the outcome of a football game, but the missed tackle was a major moment in such a hard-fought tilt.

Feb 13, 2022; Inglewood, CA, USA; Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon (28) runs the ball against Los Angeles Rams cornerback Darious Williams (11) during the second quarter in Super Bowl LVI at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

After the game, clips started circulating on social media of Pace and Mixon talking on the field. Most of those post-game interactions are cordial, but the exchange appeared to be a bit tense. Presumably, Pace would welcome another chance at a goal line tackle.

The next challenge for the Vikings and their impressive UDFA linebacker will arrive in Week 16 when Jared Goff’s Lions come to town. The Christmas Eve game is a true must-win if Minnesota wants to maintain some hope of re-claiming the NFC North.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference helped with this piece.

K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.