There are times when plays that can turn the tide of a game aren't evident to casual fans. At other times, a game's turning point is as obvious as a punch to the face. In the Vikings' 16-13 overtime win over the Carolina Panthers Sunday, the Turning Point of the Game came during a two-minute stretch that saw the Vikings going from what looked to be a home loss into a raucous home victory, as the third component of winning football – special teams – stepped to the forefront.
With the Vikings trailing 13-6 with 10 minutes to play, they were pinned on their own 7-yard line. Even in a best-case scenario, the Panthers would likely have the ball at or near midfield or perhaps a bit farther away with less than 10 minutes to go. Instead, because of a familiarity with special teams coach Paul Ferraro, the Panthers were emboldened to make a big play that could blow the game open … or blow up in their faces.
As it turned out, it was the latter. Claiming the team had picked up on a tendency of the Vikings punt coverage, they had a play on that would have return man Chris Gamble bring the defenders to the left sideline and throw a pass back to the other side. After the game, Panthers coach John Fox was barraged with questions about the call and he took full responsibility because, although practiced all week, the execution of the play was horrible.
Gamble fielded the punt on the Vikings 40 and, after taking a couple of strides to his right, he spun and threw a pass to the middle of the field that was supposed to go to cornerback Richard Marshall. Instead, it one-hopped on the ground and, after a scramble, Vikings reserve Jason Glenn recovered the ball on the Panthers 21.
"I just went after the ball," Glenn said. "I wasn't in the play until the ball came back at us. When I saw it, I just went after it and was fortunate to come away with it."
From the other side of the field, Fox knew that his risk-taking was going to have consequences.
"The air came (back) in their play," Fox said. "Whenever you get a turnover, it usually jacks up the home crowd. There is no doubt that the momentum shifted."
As it turned out, one good special teams gadget play deserved another. The Vikings, who hired Ferraro away from the Panthers when Brad Childress was named head coach, had a special teams trick up their own sleeve. Just as the Panthers felt they had picked up on a tendency in the Vikings return coverage, the Vikes had a similar plan in store for the Panthers.
After the Vikings' drive fizzled, they were faced with a field goal attempt from their own 16-yard line and, with Ferraro's knowledge of the Panthers kick-blocking schemes, there was a chance to show them how a gadget play should be run.
"We thought we had a look from earlier in the game and I'm not going to say (Ferraro had) insider information, but he coached in that system in Carolina and he felt there was a flaw in their rush," Childress said. "They're all out. They sell out on that side and the minute we knew their linebacker was away and they were going to push it, we felt we had an opportunity. I didn't feel three points at that time was what we needed."
Instead, it turned out to be seven points when Ryan Longwell found Richard Owens wide open for a 16-yard touchdown that tied the game. For his part Owens, was pretty nonchalant about the biggest play of the game.
"We practiced that play a couple of times this week and (Longwell) always got a good pass off," Owens said.
When asked if he caught all of the passes, he smiled and said, "Of course."
For a contest that took more than 67-and-a-half minutes of game time to complete, it was a two-minute span that turned the game around and knocked it on its ear – and created a special (teams) Turning Point of the Game.
Turning Point: Special Teams Gadgets
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