It just doesn’t make any sense. How many times can you make the same mistake over and over and over? How many times can you watch other teams get burnt, and then proceeed to do the exact same thing?
Well, if you’re the Minnesota Vikings, the answer appears to be – lots.
The Chicago Bears destroyed the Vikings 39-10 on Sunday night, but that wasn’t the story of the game. Quarterback Jay Cutler didn’t throw a single interception (what a difference not having to scramble for your life can make, right?) en route to an efficient two touchdown showing. But that wasn’t the story of the game either.
No, the real story of the game was the fact that Vikings, inexplicably, opted to kick to all-time great NFL return man Devin Hester early in the third quarter. Fine, let’s say the Vikings aren’t exactly students of the game. We can toss out the fact that Hester racked up 10 punt returns for touchdowns and four kickoff returns for touchdowns before this season even started.
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But how can you ignore the fact that, just two weeks ago, against the Carolina Panthers, Hester essentially won his team the game by being a historically great return man? Against the Carolina, mind you, Hester first returned a kickoff 73 yards to set up an eventual touchdown by Matt Forte. Cool, one big play, no big deal. Then, he topped that off with a punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter – a score that gave him his 11th punt return for a touchdown in an already remarkable career. The Bears won that game by five points.
And yet despite the fact that Hester recently proved that he is a difference-maker, the Vikings decided to kick to him anyway. It’s mind-blowing, really. Needless to say, Hester returned the kick 98 yards for a touchdown and added to what eventually became a 29-point romp.
After the game, Cutler marveled at the fact that five years later, this was still happening.
“I think the shocking part for us is that people still kick to him because he’s such a threat,” Cutler said after the game. “And we know he is taking a shot, he might take one to the house, so it’s fun.”
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Of course it’s fun. Hester remains the only person in the league who actually forces other teams to have to account for a highly probable potential score on their punts and kick-offs. His impact transcends his statistics, it brings a whole new element of necessary studying and strategizing to the table. The notion that just because it’s special teams that he’s making an impact on, that it’s somehow less important, is ludicrous.
And more to the point, he inspires the other guys who are playing around him to work harder because they know it’s not just an exercise in futility when they step on the field. They always have the potential to do something big.
“It’s exciting when you’ve got a guy back there you know is a difference-maker and if you get your block and if everybody gets their blocks, he can make guys miss and make things happen,” tight end Matt Spaeth told reporters after the game. “It’s exciting to be out there.”
There is no magic formula at work here. There is no code to crack. The answer, if you’re an opposing team is simple – stop kicking the ball to him.
Video of Hester doing work can be found below.