Vikings' win over Panthers is extra special
MINNEAPOLIS -- Wide receiver Adam Thielen set a Minnesota Vikings record Sunday for the longest return with a blocked punt. It lasted one quarter. That's the type of day it was for Minnesota in a 31-13 NFL win over Carolina at TCF Bank Stadium. T...
MINNEAPOLIS - Wide receiver Adam Thielen set a Minnesota Vikings record Sunday for the longest return with a blocked punt.
It lasted one quarter.
That’s the type of day it was for Minnesota in a
31-13 NFL win over Carolina at TCF Bank Stadium. The Vikings got a 30-yard punt return for a touchdown in the first quarter by Thielen and then a record-breaking 43-yard return for another TD in the second quarter by defensive end Everson Griffen.
“It was crazy,” said Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn. “I’ve never been a part of game where you have two blocked punts returned for touchdown. I can’t say that I’ve seen that before in a lifetime playing football.”
That’s because it rarely has happened before. In the lifetime of Munnerlyn, it only had occurred before when he was 2.
Sunday marked the fifth such happening in NFL history, none of the others by Minnesota. The last time it had occurred was Kansas City doing it against Cleveland in 1990. The only previous time a team had accomplished it twice in one half was Detroit against Green Bay in 1975.
“I do know that when you score on defense, you score on special teams, your odds of winning a football game go way up,” said Vikings coach Mike Zimmer.
The points sure helped the Vikings (5-7) on a 12-degree afternoon that team officials said was the seventh-coldest Minnesota home game ever.
Thielen’s touchdown, which came after a punt he blocked, made it 14-0. Griffen’s score, after a punt blocked by linebacker Jasper Brinkley, extended the advantage to 21-3.
Given a big early lead, Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater didn’t need to take many chances. But he did complete a 35-yard pass to Jarius Wright late in the third quarter, notable because Bridgewater has struggled as a rookie with the long ball.
On the day, Bridgewater completed 15 of 21 passes for 138 yards with two touchdowns and a career-high passer rating of 120.7. His previous best rating had been 98.9 on Sept. 28 against Atlanta in his first career start.
Bridgewater said he was “happy with the way the entire team handled the cold.”
What he really liked, though, was the two special teams plays making it much easier for the offense.
“I’m able to sit on the bench and stay warm,” Bridgewater said. “To have two blocked punts and they’re run back for touchdowns, it’s very huge in a game.”
The big plays made up for the Panthers (3-8-1) outgaining the Vikings 348-210 while running 72 plays to Minnesota’s 48. They also made up for the Vikings rushing for just 92 yards on 24 attempts.
Starting running back Jerick McKinnon sat out because of a lower back injury. Replacing him was Matt Asiata, who ran 14 times for 52 yards.
Bridgewater threw touchdown passes of 4 yards in the first quarter to Kyle Rudolph and 17 yards in the second quarter to Greg Jennings as the Vikings took a 28-6 halftime lead.
In the third quarter, Carolina quarterback Cam Newton did throw a 32-yard TD pass to Philly Brown. But Newton completed just 18 of 35 passes for 194 yards with an interception and was mostly ineffective.
“As an offensive player, I can’t really worry about that,” Newton said of the blocked punts making him play from behind.
The first came when Thielen broke through the middle to block a punt by Carolina’s Brad Nortman. The second-year man scooped it up and ran into the end zone to break Nate Allen’s 1976 record of 28 yards for longest Minnesota punt return.
“It was cool,” Thielen said of his first career score. “But it’s even cooler that we got the ‘W. ’ … It was one of those plays where you’re not really thinking; you’re just reacting.”
In the second quarter, disaster again struck Nortman. He said he was “surprised” and “frustrated” after Brinkley broke through for the block and Griffen picked it up and sprinted to the end zone.
“I got a little bit of wheels,” said Griffen, who also had two sacks to reach 11 for the season. “I got them from my mom, rest in peace, Sabrina. … Two scores on two punt blocks, that’s unbelievable.”
It marked the first time the Vikings had blocked two punts in a game since 1983. Before Thielen, the previous Minnesota player to return a blocked punt for a touchdown was Issiac Holt in 1986.
Griffen said he gave Thielen a high five after his touchdown and Thielen returned the favor after his score. All Griffen could do was laugh when told after the game that he had knocked Thielen out of the record book after just one quarter.