Turning point: Kick return kills momentum

The Vikings defense kept them in the game through nearly three quarters of futile offense, and the offense finally found a rhythm late in third quarter. But the Vikings went from a feeling of momentum to immediate buzzkill after a big Jets kickoff return.

On a game that hinged on multiple turning points – both offensively and defensively – it was a special teams play that created one of the most important and crippled what looked to be a Vikings comeback win.

It was a game in which the offense was dismal for the first 39 minutes and the defense allowed enough sustained drives to get the Jets into scoring position multiple times, including a back-breaking touchdown in the fourth quarter, both did enough in spots to keep the team alive and kicking. But, in a game turning points, it is a game of the momentum and, when the Vikings had their first true momentum, a special teams failure not only negated it, it kicked it in the teeth.

With 2:10 to play in the third quarter, the Vikings got their first non-sky-induced lightning bolt. After being nothing short of inept for the first three quarters, the Vikings achieved what oddsmakers would tell you isn't possible … or, at the very least, extremely improbable. Not only did the Vikings score a touchdown to get them back into the game, it was how they did it.

Prior to the start of that drive with 6:11 to play in the third quarter, the Vikings offense had the ball nine times. The number of plays on those drives? A brutal total of 3-3-4-3-3-4-1-1-3. That is almost impossible. The scab Vikings of 1987 had better drive totals than that. Brett Favre and offense had done nothing – absolutely nothing – to take the heat off of the defense. The defense had bent, but hadn't broke. Four Jets drives got into scoring range and they cashed in on all four to take a 12-0 lead. But, on the 10th drive of the game, some magic would happen for the Vikings.

To say the Vikings drove 72 yards on 10 plays doesn't quite cover it. On that drive, they faced three third-down situations. Of the limited NFL inside information learned from Mike Tice, one nugget was the percentages on converting third downs by distance. He may have never come close to completing a New York Times crossword puzzle, but the Big Galoot knew the odds on converting a third down of 6 yards or more – 29 percent. Of eight or more? About 15 percent. Of more than 10? 8.6 percent. A percentage so low it requires a decimal point. To convert one of those is improbable to say the least. But three? C'mon.

On the drive in which Favre finally got the Vikings on the board, like the nine drives that preceded this one, it looked dead – not once, but three times. A delay of game penalty set up a third-and-15 play from the Vikings 34-yard line. Favre bought himself some time and zinged a 16-yard pass to Randy Moss for a first down.

After having a 14-yard sweep by Adrian Peterson negated by a pair of Vikings penalties, Favre faced a third-and-12 situation from his own 48. He again slid away from pressure and completed a 22-yard pass to Percy Harvin to get the Vikings to the Jets 30-yard line.

A false-start penalty and botched rush attempt left the Vikings facing a third-and-16 from the 37-yard line, Favre launched a touchdown pass to Moss to put the Vikings on the board and, after being humbled for three quarters, momentum was on the Vikings' side. The defense that had been exhausted and thought three times that it was heading back out for more but had been given a reprieve and a shot of adrenaline. But, for a veteran like Favre, it was an even bigger jolt of positivity.

It was his 500th career touchdown and his first to Moss. Did it mean something to him? Let the man speak for himself.

"I don't know how many games I've played in my career, but I've found as I've gotten a little bit older, I won't say it's harder to show emotion, it's harder to recover from it," Favre said following the game. "But I have to admit, when I threw a touchdown to Randy Moss, I've been thinking about that for eight to 10 years – if you didn't know that. I was a little bit excited about it, not to mention we needed a spark at that time. You talk about a spark, you can light a flame."

That flame got doused by the next play. The Vikings kick and punt coverage teams had put together a very strong start to the season, while the other facets of the Vikings game had struggled. Ryan Longwell, not known for his booming kickoffs, showed what adrenaline could do for him. He drilled the kickoff five yards deep into the end zone and, for an instant, return man Brad Smith hesitated to come up. After that initial blip, he took off. Smith doesn't have blazing speed, but eats up chunks of yardage at a time. He found a gap, bounced the return to the left and, six seconds after hitting his longest kickoff of the year, Longwell was trying to make a tackle.

Before all was said and done, Smith didn't stop running until he got to the Vikings 19-yard line. The Vikings defense would again come up big with a three-and-out effort, but, because of the field position, Nick Folk was able to come on to kick his fifth field goal of the night to five the Jets a 15-7 lead.

Those three points would be critical. When the Vikings scored early in the fourth quarter on another inspired big-play drive, the decision had to be made to kick an extra point or go for the tie. In the process of changing their mind, the Vikings had to burn a timeout that could have changed things considerably late in the game. When it failed and the Jets scored again, the three points given away helped New York build a nine-point lead.

On a night where the Vikings failed too often for a late rally to bail out, it was one critical adrenaline-killing play that, in the end, cost the Vikings a come-from-behind win.

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