When you hear head coaches talk about their teams, they talk about winning battles in all three phases of the game. On a day when the Vikings defense held Detroit to one touchdown and two field goals and the Lions defense held the Vikings offense to just a pair of field goals, it was an historic day from the special teams that set the tone in both halves and gave the Vikings an epic (and special) turning point.
While the offense did just enough to move the ball and kept Detroit from getting a rhythm of its own and the defense made key plays to get them off the field, it was the special teams that brought home the win Sunday – being responsible for all 20 points the Vikings scored in a 20-13 win over the Lions.
One of the complaints Percy Harvin had in the offseason was that the Vikings were limiting his use and he wanted to be a more impactful player for both the offense and in the return game. The Vikings relented and have put Harvin back deep to return kicks more often this season. On the opening kickoff of Sunday's game at Ford Field, Harvin silenced a crowd ready to be loud and give the Lions a distinct home field advantage.
Taking the opening kick five yards deep in his own end zone, Harvin found a seam at about the 20-yard line and was off to races, going untouched 105 yards for the touchdown and gave the Vikings a 7-0 lead just 12 seconds into the game. It was the fifth career kickoff return for a touchdown in Harvin's career and his first in 19 games, dating back to when he brought back the opening kickoff of the 2011 season against San Diego 103 yards for a score. It would give the Vikings a lead they would never surrender, but it would take a second special teams big play to secure the win.
Harvin, who is in his fourth NFL season, has five career kickoff-return touchdowns. Only Pro Football Hall of Famer Gale Sayers has more kickoff-return touchdowns (six) in a player's first four seasons.
The Vikings entered the second half with a 13-6 win after the two teams each kicked a pair of field goals over the final 29:48 of the first half. Neither team was lighting it up offensively – the Lions had just 120 yards of offense and the Vikings had 115 – but, after the Vikings got the Lions off the field in the first drive of the second half, the Vikings offense was poised to start earning its keep to maintain or expand the lead. Instead, it would be the special teams that would deliver the big blow again.
As Marcus Sherels fielded the punt with 13:20 to play in the third quarter, it appeared as though he might get drilled immediately as the Lions coverage team was converging on him. He made the first man miss with a nifty sidestep and then, one after another, Lions players slipped off his body as Sherels did a couple jump cuts and changed direction to get toward the left sideline. When he finally got into the open field, not only was he all alone, he had a convoy of five teammates leading him down the field. He didn't stop until he raced 77 yards for a touchdown. Suddenly, the momentum the Lions were trying to achieve coming out of the locker room at halftime disappeared as quickly as it did to start the game. The Vikings had a 14-point lead and the Lions were in full panic mode from that point on.
With Sherels and Harvin both have returns for touchdowns, the Vikings are the first team in NFL history to record both a kickoff-return touchdown and a punt-return touchdown in a game three different times.
The offense didn't have an outstanding game, but did enough to win. The defense had an impressive showing and did its part. But, in the end, it was the play of the special teams and the return game that carved a new chapter in what had been labeled a rebuilding season and now sees the team atop the NFC North division a quarter of the way into the season.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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