Turning point: Special teams succumb

The Vikings had a familiar foe pop up in a familiar place, as special teams consistently let them down at Soldier Field once again. Blame could be placed in many areas of a 36-30 overtime loss, but special teams were the most consistent culprit.

In a game in which the Vikings fell behind 16-0 in the first half only to score 30 points in 30 minutes of the second half, there were plenty of turning points within the game. But it was the inconsistent play of an old nemesis – special teams – that was the Monday night turning point.

Chicago has been a house of horrors for the Vikings in recent years, and Monday night just added to that sad legacy. In both 2006 and 2007, Devin Hester brought punts back for touchdowns against the Vikings at Soldier Field. Last year, the Vikings allowed two special teams touchdowns in a 48-41 loss – the first when Chris Kluwe whiffed on a punt and Chicago's Garrett Wolfe picked it up and ran 17 yards for a score and the second when a bad bounce hit Vikings return man Chuck Gordon in the leg and gave the Bears the ball on the 5-yard line, from which they would score. Monday proved no different, as numerous special teams mistakes killed what could have been one of the greatest comebacks in Vikings history.

The special teams problems lasted throughout the game. On the opening drive of the game, the Vikings defense forced the Bears into a three-and-out, but a personal foul on the ensuing punt by Asher Allen pinned the Vikings deep. Unable to move the ball on their first offensive drive, the Vikings gave the Bears a short field to work with and they wound up with a field goal to take a 3-0 lead.

Down 6-0 six minutes into the second quarter, the Vikings looked to pin the Bears deep by punting from midfield. Instead, Kluwe shanked a punt that went just 16 yards, giving the Bears ample breathing room and they took advantage of the field-position break and drove 66 yards for a touchdown to take a 13-0 lead.

Trailing 16-0 in the second half, the Vikings offense finally came to life, as Brett Favre drove the team 80 yards in just five plays – culminating in a 1-yard run by Adrian Peterson for the first touchdown of the game. But the snap was bobbled by Kluwe and Ryan Longwell's kick was blocked – keeping the score 16-6 and depriving the Vikings of a point they would sorely need later in the game.

With momentum finally on the Vikings' side after a dismal first half, the special teams laid an egg once again. Bears kick returner Danieal Manning took the ensuing kickoff back 57 yards to the Vikings 34-yard line, which would set up a touchdown that gave the Bears a 17-point lead at 23-6 with 6:30 to play in the third quarter.

The Vikings rallied to tie the game on brilliant passing from Favre and another Peterson 1-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 23-23 with 5:49 to play. But the special teams came up empty again, allowing Manning to return the ensuing kickoff 59 yards to the Vikings 21-yard line. Just 54 seconds after the Vikings had tied the game, Chicago took the lead back at 30-23. The Vikings tied the game with 16 seconds left in regulation, but, because of the missed extra point, instead of winning 31-30, the game went to overtime tied at 30-30.

There were plenty of fingers that could be pointed in such a loss – big plays allowed by the Vikings defense, the lack of a consistent pass rush, a lethargic start, Peterson's fumble in overtime that was cashed in one play later. The list goes on and on. But it was the consistently poor play of the special teams throughout that created yet another Soldier Field nightmare.

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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