In every game, there seems to be one aspect of the team that stands out – good or bad. While late heroics often determine an outcome, how the game begins often dictates the pace and finality of the game.
So it was in the Vikings' game Friday night with the Raiders. In the early going, both the offense and defense were playing well for Minnesota, but ongoing problems with the special teams negated much of the good work being done.
The powerful Raiders offense was limited to just three points in the first half. In the first three Oakland possessions, the Vikings got the ball back on downs by breaking up a fourth-down play, made a goal-line stand and got defensive pressure to force Rich Gannon into throwing the ball away.
In contrast, the first two Vikings series were both impressive. Thanks to some strong running by Moe Williams, Doug Chapman and Daunte Culpepper, the Vikings got as close as the Raiders 6-yard line before a penalty snuffed out the chance for a TD. On the second drive, the Vikings drove 75 yards for a touchdown.
However, in the middle of all of these positives were special teams that continue to struggle mightily. After being stopped on the first drive, Hayden Epstein was asked to make a 28-yard chip shot field goal. He pushed it wide right. After the Vikings touchdown, the special teams allowed the Raiders to get a 45-yard kickoff return to give Oakland great field position. After the defense stopped the Raiders and forced them to settle for a field goal, a holding penalty on the Vikings on the ensuing kickoff pinned Minnesota on its own 10-yard line.
After another long drive by the Vikings stalled near the Oakland 20 with four minutes to play in the half, Epstein missed another field goal from inside 40 yards, turning what should easily have been a 13-3 lead into a 7-3 advantage.
With the effort and production being put forth by the first-team offense and defense, the Vikings had the chance to hold a dominating lead – if only for a big play or two by the special teams. In a game where so much of the team looked strong with the starters on the field, this weak link continues to be a problem and created not only the turning point of the game, but could be liable to be the turning point of the season if the problems aren't corrected.
Turning Point: Special Teams Blemishes
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