Eric Wilson pointed to the gash and big knot on his forehead, smiled and called it his “to-go celebration scar.”
“I got this blocking the punt,” the Vikings backup linebacker said after Sunday’s 28-12 win over Atlanta at U.S. Bank Stadium. “And, honestly, I have no idea how it happened. I was celebrating and then I see a little bit of blood on my visor.”
“Dude,” said fellow special teamer Kentrell Brothers, “there was blood all over your face.”
“Nothing but a little cut and a little bump,” Wilson said.
The smile said it was a small price for the Vikings’ first blocked punt since 2014, when they returned two of them for touchdowns in a 31-13 rout of Carolina at TCF Bank Stadium.
Sunday’s block was an overloaded inside rush that new special teams coordinator Marwan Maalouf introduced to his players on Wednesday.
“I knew something special was going to happen Wednesday when we first practiced it,” running back Ameer Abdullah said. “Our guys were hungry to execute it.”
Maalouf had the ideal rush planned for a punter known leaguewide for being slow in getting the ball out. Matt Bosher’s nine blocked punts are the most by any punter since Bosher entered the league in 2011.
The timing for Maalouf’s call on Sunday also was ideal.
The Vikings won the coin toss, deferred and opened with an 8-yard sack when Anthony Barr got a free run at Matt Ryan. Then a Vikings defense that forced a league-high 44 three-and-outs a year ago opened 2019 with its first one.
Mosher was standing inside his 20-yard line when Wilson not only blocked the punt but recovered it at the Falcons 21-yard-line.
“Actually,” said Wilson, “I took the ball right off his foot.”
Two plays later, the Vikings led 7-0 and the Falcons never recovered, falling behind 28-0.
“We kind of set the tempo for the day a little bit,” coach Mike Zimmer said of the game’s first three minutes.
Meanwhile, Falcons coach Dan Quinn essentially was asked if he was outcoached, especially in the opening minutes.
“On the punt, certainly it wasn’t a look that we hadn’t seen or prepared for,” he said. “So I wouldn’t say it was the preparation standpoint.”
The scheme certainly was good, but so was the execution.
“Kentrell’s the one who did a great job on that block,” Wilson said. “He opened things up and I came through clean as day.”
Brothers was lined up as a down lineman to the right of the long snapper.
“The center pushed out to his right and I just swam past him,” Brothers said. “When I got through like that, I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to block this punt.’ But the PP [punt protector] came to me. I remembered what the block call was so I was like, ‘Let me get him out the way and let one of the others block it.’ ”
Maalouf designed the play to have Wilson and Abdullah move late and rush straight up the middle.
“Two up the middle, I don’t think we’ve done that in the three years I’ve been here,” Brothers said. “We had those guys on their toes the whole game.”
Wilson said the Falcons were confused by the pre-snap movement to the inside.
“And then,” he said, “we got off the rock.”
Abdullah also got through the line but was knocked down by the right guard.
“That guy smacked me pretty good, for sure,” Abdullah said. “But that’s what it is, though. We knew somebody was going to come free with two of us hitting the same gap. And then Kentrell got through too.”
Brothers said he couldn’t believe what his peripheral vision was telling him as he was being blocked and Wilson went racing by.
“He didn’t have to stretch out to block that one,” Brothers said. “He probably could have tackled the punter. So good job by him being aware enough to just take it off the punter’s foot. A big play.”
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraignfl. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org