OAKLAND, Calif. – It seemed like the right call Sunday when Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski squibbed a kickoff late in the second quarter rather than risk having the ball get hung up in a stiff wind.
Yeah, Vikings kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson hadn’t scored a touchdown on a kickoff return in 33 games, but it was better to be safe than down 20-14, eh?
Well, 93 yards later, Patterson had answered Oakland’s go-ahead score with a touchdown and that six-point lead en route to a Vikings 30-14 victory over the Raiders at O.co Coliseum.
So what the heck happened?
“Their coverage guys squeezed into the middle of the field,” said Vikings tight end Rhett Ellison, who serves as a blocker on the kick return unit. “When you squib, you squeeze in on the ball, but they left the edges open. At that point, you kind of just get in front of the ball and block someone down the edge.”
Patterson had to retreat a couple yards to his right to scoop up the loose ball. He made it 9 yards before having to make a cut off a block by Adam Thielen.
“It was such a good cut that I really didn’t have to do too much,” Thielen said. “When I turned around after the block, I saw this huge wall of Vikings players. I knew Cordarrelle was gone.”
Matt Asiata was one of the two players who helped seal the edge near the Vikings 28-yard line. After that, it was a purple escort down the left sideline. Antone Exum and Ellison were there. And it was the 250-pound Ellison who sent the 265-pound Janikowski flying through the air as the last potential tackler.
“CP did most of the work,” Ellison said. “Blocking the kicker? It didn’t really matter. CP was going to outrun that kicker.”
As a rookie in 2013, Patterson had two kickoff returns for touchdowns in his first seven games, including an NFL-record 109-yarder to open a game against the Packers at the Metrodome. Patterson earned All-Pro honors as a kick returner while averaging a league-best 32.4 yards per return that season.
Since then, the first-round draft pick out of Tennessee averaged 25.6 yards last season and went into Sunday’s game with a 24.8-yard average, although he did break what was then a season-best 42-yarder against the Rams last week.
“Everybody did their jobs,” Patterson said of Sunday’s score. “And that’s all I really have to say about it.”
Patterson’s pronounced zigzagging finish at the end of the run nearly caused some of his excited teammates to run onto the field too soon to help celebrate.
“I think I was already on the field by the time he scored,” wide receiver Jarius Wright said. “I was just so happy for my guy. I couldn’t wait to go out there.”