Sometimes a game can turn 180 degrees on a single play. In Saturday night's 20-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, a lone special-teams play swung momentum away from the Vikings and provided the Cowboys with the turning point of the game.
The Vikings seemed to be in good early form after scoring a touchdown on their first offensive series, getting a defensive stop in the red zone to force Dallas to settle for a field goal and following that up with another offensive drive that got the Vikings deep into Dallas territory.
While the drive stalled out on the Dallas 29-yard line, it seemed like a near formality that Ryan Longwell would kick the 46-yard field goal to give the Vikings a 10-3 lead and keep the 63,000 fans at the Metrodome in noisy form.
Instead, a spectacular play by safety Gerald Sensabaugh changed the game in a heartbeat.
On the snap, Sensabaugh turned his body sideways and leaped between two Vikings. He landed behind the Vikings blockers and had a straight path to the ball and Longwell, who said he couldn't help but see him coming because he was on top of him and holder Chris Kluwe so quickly.
"It was just a great play by Sensabaugh," Longwell said. "The last thing you ever want to hear is the double thump of you kicking the ball and it getting hit right away. For a kicker there isn't a worse sound in the world."
After the kick was blocked it bounced straight backward, when defensive back Alan Ball eventually corralled the ball and took it in for a touchdown. What was expected to be a 10-3 Vikings lead became a 10-7 Dallas advantage and left the Vikings scratching their heads.
"That was just a weird play," said long snapper Cullen Loeffler, one of the two players split by Sensabaugh's sideways jump. "He never touched me and all I could figure to do was to try to stick an arm to get him, even though we're taught not to do that. We were braced for contact and it never came. We got the ball snapped and down quick like we want. I was shocked. I'll know more when I watch the film, but I imagine it will look about the same as a I remembered – just a great play by [Sensabaugh]."
The Cowboys would turn that advantage into the game-changing sequence that saw the Dallas defense get a turnover on the next Vikings drive and the Cowboys turning that into a touchdown that would give them a 17-7 lead.
Longwell said the special teams were frustrated – he would come up just short in the second half on a 52-yard attempt that gave Dallas great field position that it converted into three more points. He said it was a game they don't want to remember, but won't easily forget.
"We ended up giving away 10 points on kicks and that's something you never want to do," Longwell said. "It's frustrating, but, at the same time, that's why it is the preseason. We have some great guys on our special teams and we'll get it ironed out by Sept. 11 when we're really going to need it."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Turning point: Blocked field goal blocks win
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