Adam Thielen’s moment in the very chilly Minnesota sun didn’t last long. Only about a quarter, really, before Everson Griffen gently nudged him aside.
Two punts, two blocks, two scores, too much.
The Carolina Panthers’ game Sunday against the Vikings was only 8 minutes old, still a one-score affair, when the Panthers lined up to punt from their 43. Disaster ensued.
Thielen was on Panthers punter Brad Nortman so fast he had to lower his hands to avoid getting hit in the face with the ball. Thielen engulfed the kick, fell to the ground, picked up the ball and was in for a touchdown 30 yards later, putting Minnesota up 14-0.
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It was the Vikings’ first blocked punt return for a score in 453 games, the longest such streak in the NFL. And it was the longest blocked punt returned for a touchdown in Vikings history.
For a few minutes.
Enter Griffen. Early second quarter, Panthers punting, fourth-and-5, midfield. Jasper Brinkley lined up on the outside. All it took was a quick up-and-under move, and he was blocking a second straight Nortman punt. The ball bounced to Griffen, who raced 43 yards, putting Minnesota up 21-3 and eliminating Thielen from the record book.
“Well, I think I’m faster than Adam,” Griffen joked. “No, seriously. He did it all. He blocked, scooped and scored. How awesome is that?”
Said Thielen: “It’s OK, I’m happy. It’s just special to have two blocked punts for TDs.”
Yes, it is. It only happened four times before, and not for 24 years.
After the game Vikings special teams coach Mike Priefer said he hadn’t seen any particular vulnerability in the Panthers protection scheme. However: “There were a couple things with our punt rush vs. their protection we thought we could exploit,” he said.
In both cases, the Vikings were set up for a return. But the rusher came free, Thielen from over the long snapper, Griffen from the edge. The second block might have come as a result of a particularly spread out defensive front.
“Jasper has been begging for that call the last four or five weeks,” Priefer said. “And he came through. … To block punts you have to believe you’re going to block punts. We believed.”
It was a day of very special Vikings special teams. Punt returner Marcus Sherels had returns of 26 and 19 yards, once setting up a field goal. The blocks, however, set the tone. For Thielen, it was his first NFL score. For Griffen, his second. Griffen, a defensive end, also had two sacks.