Vikes Ride Special Teams to 20-13 Win Over Lions
I was scratching my head so much during Sunday’s win over the Lions that I had to stop. My bald spot was getting a rash. What have they done to my Vikings? Could it be an alien abduction, or have we blundered into an alternate purple universe? After four games, one thing is certain: past seasons’ performances are not indicative of the way the current 2012 Vikings play.
Here’s a great example. On the opening kickoff, Percy Harvin takes the ball five yards deep in the right side of the end zone and immediately veers across the field, slowing down only to pick up a posse of blockers that demolish everyone in their path. Clear sailing! Percy turns on the afterburners and jets into the Lions end zone for a 105-yard touchdown return. Most fans jaded by purple memory syndrome tempered their enthusiasm and waited for the announcement that a flag had been thrown, nullifying the return.
No flag! Percy Harvin for president! Wait, this is where the Vikings of old would always give up a big return on the next kickoff. Blair Walsh sends a blast out of the end zone for a touchback. So far so good. However, on the Lions very first possession, our worst fears are realized.
An overanxious Vikings defensive lineman goes offside, and Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has a free play. He flings it deep to Calvin Johnson. The ball looks too high to be catchable, but Jamarca Sanford blasts Megatron anyway, and earns a 53-yard pass interference penalty. Is it déjà vu all over again? Au contraire Pierre! The defense stiffens and the Lions have to settle for a 40-yard field goal.
It was only a few minutes into the game and the Vikings already had a moral victory. Because of a vastly improved secondary, feisty offensive line, and an off the charts special teams performance, in a few hours they had the real thing.
If the old Vikings are in a witness protection program, I hope they never get found. I like these guys. Here’s why. In the first quarter Charlie Johnson was flagged for a false start. Why is this notable? It was the first illegal procedure call on the Vikings offensive line all year. The Vikings safeties have gone from statues in a failed Tampa Two museum to a ballhawking duo that is causing severe cases of “alligator arms” in opposing receivers. Just ask Randy Moss after he was held to only three meaningless catches in last week’s game against the 49ers, or superstar receiver Calvin Johnson, who was held to five receptions for 54 yards and coughed up a sure touchdown when Jamarca Sanford and Harrison Smith sandwiched him in the end zone.
However, this Sunday’s glory belonged to the Vikings special teams.
Former Gopher (and Rochester John Marshall Rocket) player Marcus Sherels only returned one punt, but he made it memorable. Although it looked like the 5-foot-ten-inch Sherels was going to be knocked into the next zip code by a charging 6-foot-five-inch, 220-pound Kassim Osgood, he disdained the fair catch, sidestepped the tackle, and celebrated his birthday with a 77-yard touchdown punt return.
After two Blair Walsh field goals and a marvelous clutch Chris Kluwe punt that was downed on the two-yard line late in the fourth quarter, the Vikings special teams had accounted for all 20 of the team’s points and had thoroughly dominated the Lions in the battle for field position. The last time the Vikings had a kick-off return and a punt return for a touchdown was when Koren Robinson and Mewelde Moore combined for return TDs on November 13, 2005 against the Giants. That, however, was in a galaxy far, far away. These “new and improved” Vikings are 3-1 and are on top of the
NFC North. That’s what I call special.