In one game, the Vikings' punt return yardage more than doubled.
Devin Hester struck again, but the Vikings saw other issues beyond their own mistakes and Hester's knack for the big return. His 42-yard punt return Sunday in Chicago still isn't sitting well with the Vikings.
Chris Kluwe punted the ball a few feet from the sideline, but that didn't stop Hester from another big return.
"I thought in the punt return we stuck it by the boundary. I thought we started to push that direction. I thought there were a couple pushes in the back right there, at the point," Vikings coach Brad Childress said earlier this week. "Then you let a good returner cross face and get to the ball. It's not like as if we hadn't talked about it. Like I said, Kluwe punted it just about where we wanted to punt it. (Hester) is an excellent return guy. He makes a couple people miss and he can make you look foolish."
That he did. Five Vikings touched Hester and had varying degrees of opportunity to tackle him, but he slipped through numerous arm tackles and continued up the side before finally being brought down.
"When you're there, you've got to make a play. With a guy like that, sometimes you get hesitant just because there's a fear factor with a guy like Devin Hester, knowing that he has the ability to take it all the way," said Kenny Onatolu, one of the Vikings' coverage specialists. "I think we were a little tentative going down there, just making sure we didn't give it up and then we ended up giving it up instead of just playing like we normally play, which is aggressive and just go balls to the wall and make a play."
Kluwe took to Twitter once again to make his case for the penalties that weren't called. He expanded on what he saw (coaches film undoubtedly shows more than the television copy) when asked about it in the locker room Thursday.
"There were two (calls) for sure and one that was questionable. Chris Cook, he was running down and the Chicago guy made a nice hustle play. That was kind of on the edge," Kluwe said. "But then Jasper Brinkley got full-on pulled down from behind. You see the guy grab his jersey and yank him down from behind and then (Chad) Greenway is in position to make the tackle and the guy shoves him in the back five yards in front of the ref and you see the ref staring straight at it and doesn't throw the flag. What more do you need? It's just one of those things. It's a tough job for the refs out there, but at the same time, that's what they get paid to do, just like we get paid to play the game. Gotta have it."
Kluwe later tweeted that the officials admitted they missed the call – a similar disclosure from Childress a few weeks ago garnered a steep fine from the league – but there is a reason Kluwe is so concerned with the yardage.
With Hester's 42-yard return, the Vikings went from giving up 45 yards on punt returns all year to giving up an additional 47 yards in one game. Kluwe is hoping to make the Pro Bowl and entered Sunday's game with the best net punting average in the NFC. He is now second behind Dallas' Matt McBriar and that little bit of a slip could hurt his chances at making his first Pro Bowl.
"Without question, because there's no asterisk saying, ‘Oh, but 42 yards of this is because we didn't call a penalty.' They're not going to put that in there," Kluwe said. "Personally I don't like it because, yeah, it hurts my stats, but then as a team we've made such great strides from the past couple years. It was like three years ago where we led the league in touchdowns returned against us. We've come such a long way that to have our guys be blamed for poor tackling when they were in position and they just got pushed, it sucks. It makes the whole unit look bad."
The Vikings also looked bad on a kickoff return that Hester brought back 68 yards before he was caught. The game before, the Cardinals' LaRod Stephens-Howling returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown.
"It's basically not doing basic things that we've been working on. You've got guys jumping outside of leverage lanes and you do something like that and it's always going to have a chance to take it all the way. We were jumping out of lanes in a couple of them and (Hester) just got us pretty good," Onatolu said.
"After every one that happened we pretty much knew what was wrong, getting the printout on the sheet and seeing where guys were fitting in wrong. We knew what to expect from coach and we've just got to come back next week and do a lot better job."
Fortunately for the Vikings, their opponent this week, the Packers, are 28th in kickoff return average and 21st in punt return average.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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