The Vikings appeared to be stopped on their second drive of the afternoon, stuck at fourth-and-2 at their own 45-yard line when first-year head coach Mike Zimmer called for a fake punt that they had been working on.
“I hope we make it,” Zimmer said about his thought process on calling for first fake in a decade of Vikings history. “We’ve been practicing that for a while and I thought that was a good situation to run it.”
It was also the first time the Vikings have run a fake punt since 2004. That spans the coaching staffs of Mike Tice (three years into his tenure), Brad Childress and Leslie Frazier. Zimmer called for it in his first year and was rewarded with a 48-yard run by Andrew Sendejo, known more as a backup safety than a running threat.
“Honestly, it’s a good scheme. It probably would have worked against a lot of people,” Sendejo said on Monday. “I’m just thinking, I’m on punt return, you’re always alert for the fake, but they could run any type of play. It’s always going to be something unique. Every team kind of has their base fake, direct snap to the fullback and stuff.”
Sendejo said he has never taken a handoff in a game. Not in the NFL. Not in college at Rice. And not even in high school in at Smithson Valley High in Spring Branch, Texas.
This time, however, his number was called. Long snapper Cullen Loeffler snapped the ball short to receiver Adam Thielen, standing well in front and to the left of punter Jeff Locke. Thielen ran to his right a few steps and handed the ball off to Sendejo, the up man to the right of Locke, and Sendejo found the room around the left end with blocks from Gerald Hodges and Rhett Ellison.
Sendejo picked up 48 yards and would have made it to the end zone if not for being tripped up by Michael Mauti.
“We’ve always had it in, but it was just one of those things, waiting for it to be called,” Thielen said.
Loeffler – who remembers the fake punt in 2004 that went to another safety, Brian Russell, who was stopped a yard short of a first down against Chicago – said the hardest part about his job on the short snap is not tipping anything off.
Field position, down-and-distance and getting the right look from the Bears all played a key in making that call at that time. But one of the keys was the misdirection created by Thielen starting out with the ball running to his right before handing it off to Sendejo on the reverse.
“That definitely is confusing. To run that, it’s got to be the perfect storm,” Sendejo said. “It’s got to be the right down and distance, the right area of the field, part of the game. So it just all worked out. It was early and we wanted to get some momentum and start fast so we called it.”
The play set up the Vikings’ only touchdown of the day, a 7-yard pass to tight end Rhett Ellison on the next play.