In preseason openers, the most important time of the game for the coaches is after the starters have gone to the bench. In a lethargic start to the game on both offense and defense, following a special-teams gaffe that allowed the St. Louis Rams to take a 7-0 lead, the Vikings needed a big play to put a spark in what had been a lifeless effort to that point. Rookie Chris Cook provided that moment and the spark that play created became what was the turning point of the game.
The Vikings played their starters for just one series, while the Rams kept their starting offense in for two series and the defense for three. As a result, the first five series of the game ended in punts – the fifth of which was a Vikings punt to the Rams that was returned for a 93-yard touchdown. In a game where neither offense was generating any momentum, that play had the chance to be a game-changer. As it turned out, it was – but the Vikings were the beneficiary.
Trailing the lowly Rams 7-0 and having to punt just five seconds into the second quarter, a big play was needed to turn the tide. Cook would provide as a special-teams player, not a cornerback. Return man Danny Amendola, who had the 93-yard punt return to get the Rams on the board in the final two minutes of the first quarter was hoping for a repeat performance when he took the punt in the first minute of the second quarter. Instead, he got drilled by Cook and fumbled the ball. Linebacker Kenny Onatolu recovered and, after a moribund first quarter, the Vikings offense found itself in business in the Rams red zone.
The offense did its part, as Sage Rosenfels threw a 2-yard touchdown to Logan Payne to tie the game at 7-7. With the special teams making amends and the offense cashing in, the onus was placed on the defense to hold up its end of the turnaround. As it turned out, the defense dominated the rest of the game.
On the Rams' next drive, rookie Sam Bradford converted a pair of third downs to get on the fringe of scoring range. When the Rams got to the Vikings 36-yard line, they faced a fourth-and-1. The choice was easy. Run the ball. They tried to pop a run outside with running back Chris Ogbonnaya, but Heath Farwell cut him down short of the first down and momentum was back in the favor of the Vikings.
On the next offensive series, the Vikings faced a possibility for a three-and-out series – looking at a third-and-11 situation from their own 35-yard line. Rosenfels didn't just convert the first down, he hooked up with tight end Garrett Mills in the seam deep downfield for a 65-yard catch and run for a touchdown to give the Vikings a 14-7 lead.
Once again, the offense was doing its job. The special teams were still in better standing. The defense needed to step up. It did.
On the next seven drives, the Rams offense had two first downs – going three-and-out five times. On the six offensive plays in the final two Rams drives of the first half, first overall draft pick Sam Bradford threw four incompletions and got sacked twice. When he turned the game over to Keith Null, things just got worse.
The Vikings needed a spark to snap them out of their lethargy through the first quarter of Saturday's game. After giving up the first big play of the game, Cook's big play ignited the fire that caught the offense first and the defense for the rest of the game, creating a textbook turning point.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
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