Notebook: Unhappy returns

Special teams coordinator Paul Ferraro entered Monday night's game saying he wasn't happy about the performance of his coverage units. We wonder what he'll say this Thursday at his press conference after punt returner Reggie Bush tied an NFL record with two returns for TDs. Plus, find out how the Vikings did in numerous other areas, including the red zone, turnovers, pass protection and much more.

The Vikings entered Monday night's game against the New Orleans Saints ranked 26th in the NFL covering kickoffs. They didn't improve on that rating, despite facing the 28th-ranked Saints' kickoff return team. The Vikings allowed Pierre Thomas to return the opening kickoff 56 yards and later in the first half allowed another return of 41 yards following.

Thomas ended up averaging 33.6 yards on five returns, less than a week after special teams coordinator Paul Ferraro said he wasn't happy with the way his coverage teams were performing.

"I'm not happy with where we are. To sit here and say anything else wouldn't be honest. We need to pick it up in all ways. It's a guy here and a guy there, but that doesn't matter. We're a unit and we have to play together," Ferraro said last week. "One time it's one guy and one time it's another guy, but the bottom line is that you can't do that when you're covering against good returners in this league. We have to be better. I expect that we will be."

Fact is, they were much worse in covering punts, allowing Reggie Bush to slip free for two long touchdowns and nearly another in which he lost his balance.

The punt coverage team limited Reggie Bush to 6 yards combined on his first two returns, but his third return started to the left, cut back to the right and, after picking up two big blocks, Bush was gone down the right sideline for a 71-yard touchdown.

The Vikings didn't shy away from punting to him on the next series and he nearly broke that one, cutting back to his right again before losing balance after a 29-yard return.

Early in the fourth quarter, Bush gave his team an improbable lead with a 64-yard punt return, tying an NFL record for two punt returns for touchdowns in a game.

By the end of the game, Thomas' returns had vaulted the Saints kickoff return team from 28th to 16th in the league. The Vikings fell to 30th in the league covering kickoffs.

Bush now leads the league in punt return average and it's not even close. He has a 29-yard average (the next closest is at 15.2) and is the only player in the league with multiple punt returns this year, as he now has three.

Kluwe is now ranked seventh in the league with a gross punting average of 47.1 yards, but he's among the worst in the league in net at 31.7, placing him 31st. Kluwe's net for the game was a horrendous 15.3 yards.

The Saints had an amazing 354 yards in kick and punt returns.


The Vikings entered the game tied for 21st in the league with a minus-2 takeaway/giveaway ratio, but they finished Monday night at plus-2 for the season.

The Vikings intercepted Drew Brees twice – he entered the game with eight touchdowns and four interceptions – and recovered two of the Saints' five fumbles.

The Vikings are now tied for seventh in the league with a plus-2 takeaway/giveaway ratio while the Saints fell to a tie for 27th at minus-4.


Behind Brees, the Saints entered the game as one of the league's best offenses inside the 20-yard line, ranking fifth by converting seven of 11 trips inside the red zone into touchdowns. The Vikings defense entered the game ranked 26th in that category, ironically giving up seven touchdowns in their opponents' 11 trips inside the 20-yard line.

Yet the Saints struggled in that category Monday night, getting only one touchdown in four tries – and that came on their opening possession of the game with a 17-yard pass from Brees to Devery Henderson.

After that, the Vikings defense got stout. The special teams blocked a field goal on the Saints' second drive after they reached the 19-yard line, and the defense allowed a field on the third drive when the Saints reached the 17-yard line. Linebacker Ben Leber intercepted Brees on the Saints' fourth trip inside the 20-yard line. That was also their last trip inside the red zone with 3:24 left in the first half.


E.J. Henderson's season-ending trip to the injured-reserve list on Monday with a foot injury means that the Vikings started first-year player David Herron. Herron didn't make any glaring errors, but he finished with only two tackles.

Leber, who is a regular starter but often comes out in nickel situations, was used much more often and his final game statistics reflected that. He finished with seven tackles, three passes defensed and one interception.

Cornerback Cedric Griffin, who said last week that he doesn't believe he is being targeted by quarterbacks, finished with a team-high nine tackles and one forced fumble. Fellow cornerback Antoine Winfield finished with eight tackles, including five for a loss, a sack, forced fumble, fumble recovery and a pass defensed.


The Vikings have used the backfield of Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor a few times this season, but they used it twice in the first quarter on Monday night. The second time caused the Saints to use their second timeout of the half.

On the Vikings' next drive, Taylor was dropped for a 1-yard loss on the first play of the drive, but three plays later he was completing a 4-yard touchdown pass to Visanthe Shiancoe.

"It is really a situational thing," Bevell said of having Taylor and Peterson in the backfield at the same time. "The way the offense is built, obviously a fullback is going to run up there and lead block for them. … But there are situational things that we can use that as. There are particularly probably pass routes that you can throw them at. But just to do it all the time would probably be a deviation from what we are doing."


The Vikings decided to start left tackle Bryant McKinnie after he returned from a four-game suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy. McKinnie played the majority of the game and didn't surrender any sacks.

As a whole, the Vikings only gave up one sack.

On the flip side, Winfield's sack was the only one the defense got, but that wasn't much of a surprise. Saints quarterback Drew Brees entered the game only being sacked four times in four games.


The Vikings tried to play WR Sidney Rice on a limited basis last week as he was coming back from a knee injury, but on Monday night Rice was inactive again. That means that Rice has caught one pass in the last three games, two of which he has been inactive for.

CB Benny Sapp (hamstring) was also inactive first time this year, giving CB Marcus McCauley his first activation of the season. However, Charles Gordon continued to be the nickel back.

Also returning to the field after at least a week off were DE Ray Edwards (shoulder) and LB Vinny Ciurciu (knee). FB Jeff Dugan was also active for his first game of 2008 while FB Thomas Tapeh remained on the inactive list for the third straight week.

Also inactive for the Vikings were QB John David Booty (the third quarterback), S Madieu Williams (neck), OT Drew Radovich (shoulder), OL Marcus Johnson and DT Letroy Guion.

The Saints' inactives were WR Marques Colston (thumb), CB Aaron Glenn (ankle), FB Olaniyi Sobomehin, S Chris Reis (hamstring), T Jermon Bushrod, WR David Patten (groin), TE Jeremy Shockey (hernia) and DT Sedrick Ellis (knee).

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