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Associated Press, Published September 30 2012

Vikings use kick, punt return TDs to top Lions

DETROIT – The Minnesota Vikings must have been salivating when they watched how the Detroit Lions covered kicks.

Or, more accurately, didn’t cover them.

Percy Harvin returned the opening kickoff 105 yards, and Marcus Sherels ran back the first punt of the second half 77 yards for a score, boosting the Vikings to a 20-13 win Sunday – and sending the underachieving Lions into a dubious category all their own.

“It was slow-motion, especially today,” Harvin said. “That hole opened up, and you probably could have walked through there. The blockers did a great job. They told me all week they were going to do everything they could to get me in the end zone. Special teams was huge today.”

Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said he and his staff pointed out Detroit’s deficiencies and predicted Harvin would score if everyone held their blocks.

“It was obvious,” Frazier said.

When Sherels scored, Detroit became the first team since at least 1940 to give up a kickoff and a punt return for touchdowns in consecutive games, according to STATS LLC. The Lions allowed scores on a kickoff and punt in last week’s 44-41 loss in overtime at Tennessee.

“We’re good, but we’re garbage right now and we’re killing our team,” kicker Jason Hanson said.

Lions coach Jim Schwartz, though, shot down any chance of him firing special teams coordinator Danny Crossman.

“No, that’s not a consideration,” Schwartz said. “There’s physical plays we have to make.”

The surprising NFC North-leading Vikings (3-1) have already matched the number of wins of 2011, when they got off to an 0-4 start.

Second-year quarterback Christian Ponder said that is huge.

“That’s a good mark of improvement,” Ponder said.

The Lions, meanwhile, seem to be regressing quickly.

Detroit (1-3) goes into its bye wondering what has gone wrong with a team that began 5-0 last season and ended with 10 victories to snap the franchise’s 11-game postseason drought. The Lions have lost three straight – surpassing their longest skid last year – to turn cheers into jeers at Ford Field.

“We didn’t start off the way we wanted to,” Schwartz said. “That’s not to say we can’t get it back. That’s s our challenge right now to dig our way out of this.”

Beginning with special teams.

Harvin fielded the first kick toward the back left of the end zone, cut across the field, sprinted up the sideline and into the other end zone 12 seconds into the game.

“We always talk about starting fast, and that’s the fastest start you can get,” Ponder said.

As soon as the Vikings got the ball in the second half, they went to work quickly as well.

Sherels took the punt in the middle of the field and made Kassim Osgood miss right away before wiggling through traffic and pulling away to put the Vikings ahead 20-6.

Ponder was 16 of 26 for 111 yards for Minnesota. Jerome Simpson had four receptions for a team-high 50 yards and drew a pair of penalties to help set up scores. Simpson missed the first three games serving a suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

Adrian Peterson had 102 yards rushing on 21 carries – running for more than 100 yards for the first time since Oct. 23, 2011 – and added more proof his surgically repaired left knee is just fine.

“It just seems like that was the Adrian that we were hoping to see,” Frazier said.

Vikings punter Chris Kluwe pinned Detroit on its 2 with 1:42 remaining. Stafford was sacked on the last snap at his 33, a fitting end to a game dominated by Minnesota’s defense and special teams, ending an 11-game losing streak to division opponents.

If Chicago can’t beat Dallas on the road Monday night, the Vikings will be alone atop the NFC North going into Week 5.

“We want to embrace it,” Frazier said. “It was one of our goals when the season began, to win the NFC North.”

Minnesota 10 3 7 0 – 20

Detroit 3 3 0 7 – 13

First Quarter

Min – Harvin 105 kickoff return (Walsh kick), 14:48.

Det – FG Hanson 40, 13:06.

Min – FG Walsh 49, 1:16.

Second Quarter

Min – FG Walsh 27, 8:14.

Det – FG Hanson 31, 1:46.

Third Quarter

Min – Sherels 77 punt return (Walsh kick), 13:09.

Fourth Quarter

Det – Stafford 1 run (Hanson kick), 2:56.

A – 63,616.

Min Det

First downs 15 23

Total Net Yards 227 341

Rushes-yards 28-127 20-55

Passing 100 286

Punt Returns 1-77 3-35

Kickoff Returns 2-109 0-0

Interceptions Ret. 0-0 0-0

Comp-Att-Int 16-26-0 30-51-0

Sacked-Yards Lost 2-11 5-33

Punts 6-43.2 5-39.6

Fumbles-Lost 0-0 1-1

Penalties-Yards 5-87 5-72

Time of Possession 29:18 30:42


RUSHING: Minnesota, Peterson 21-102, Harvin 3-12, Gerhart 3-8, Ponder 1-5. Detroit, LeShoure 13-26, Stafford 4-14, Burleson 1-8, T.Young 1-5, Bell 1-2.

PASSING: Minnesota, Ponder 16-26-0-111. Detroit, Stafford 30-51-0-319.

RECEIVING: Minnesota, Simpson 4-50, Peterson 4-20, Harvin 3-22, Rudolph 2-8, Gerhart 1-8, Jenkins 1-4, Carlson 1-(minus 1). Detroit, Pettigrew 7-67, Bell 6-72, Johnson 5-54, Burleson 5-51, LeShoure 4-37, T.Young 1-17, Scheffler 1-16, K.Williams 1-5.

MISSED FIELD GOALS: Minnesota, Walsh 46 (WL).