Turning point: Special teams decisions

The Vikings gave up two touchdowns with special teams mistakes by players, but they also allowed more first-half points by their lack of confidence in their return units.

In a game in which the Vikings and Bears combined to score the most points for two teams in franchise history, breaking the mark of 87 set in a 52-35 Bears win over the Vikings in Minnesota's inaugural season, it was the supreme lack of confidence that the Vikings coach staff showed in their special teams that created a stomach-turning turning point of the game.

The Vikings got off to a fast start, opening the game with a 10-play drive that resulted in a touchdown on a 1-yard fourth-down run by Adrian Peterson and the Vikings had an early 7-0 lead. But, the fear of the special teams ruining the game got the Vikings coaching staff to over-think their position. Instead of kicking deep to Devin Hester and depending on their special teamers to do their job, the Vikings opted for a squib quick that was fielded outside the 30-yard line and returned to the 46. The Bears had a short field to work with and needed just five plays to get the game-tying touchdown.

The next chance for the special teams to do its job was just four plays later. After a three-and-out by the Vikings offense, the team had to punt. With by far the worst coverage teams in the league, the coaching staff was planning to punt away from Hester. Punter Chris Kluwe tried to sneak a look as to where Hester was lining up moments before the snap and, when the ball came, he fumbled it, the Bears recovered and went in for a score to give Chicago a 14-7 lead with 5:43 to play in the first quarter.

After the Vikings scored a touchdown to tie the game, the coaching staff again opted for a short kickoff. This time, fullback Jason McKie returned the ball to the 48-yard line – once again giving the Bears offense a short field to work with. Chicago was unable to take full advantage of the field position, but because they were so close to begin with, they quickly got into field goal range and were able to make a Robbie Gould field goal to take a 17-14 lead.

The Vikings again had an answer for the Bears, scoring a field goal of their own to tie the game and finally seemed to be getting momentum back when they finally kicked deep and limited Hester to just a 16-yard kickoff return. The Bears couldn't put together a big drive and finally had to punt with five minutes remaining in the first half. Once again, the special teams laid an egg. On an angled punt inside the 10, return man Charles Gordon tried to make a block on the gunner close to where the ball was coming down. It hit Gordon's arm after the bounce, went into the end zone and was recovered by the Bears for a touchdown and a 24-17 lead.

The Vikings were again able to answer Chicago's score with a scoring drive of their own to tie the game with 22 seconds to play in the half. Despite failing on their first two squib kicks, the Vikings went back to the short kick again, which was returned to the 41-yard line. The Bears were able to get a couple of short completions to at least attempt a field goal. However, it was going to be a 53-yard attempt and Gould had never made a field goal of 50 yards or more in his career. As the Vikings special teams lined up for the kick, Ray Edwards jumped offside, moving the ball in five yards and Gould connected on the 48-yard attempt.

Taking nothing away from the Bears offense, which found clear passing lanes throughout the game, it was the Vikings singular lack of confidence in their special teams that directly resulted in 14 first-half points and, it can be argued, all 27 of the Bears first-half points. On a day when the Vikings offense generated 41 points and lost, the blame lies squarely on the coaching staff that allowed the Bears to start on their own 46-, 48- and 41-yard lines because of having no confidence that their special teams could get the job done. The coaching staff took that element of the game out of the hands of their players and, in the process, created their own turning point of the game.

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