CHICAGO – With all due respect to Vikings punt returner Marcus Sherels, even he admits he played perhaps the easiest part in one of the easier punt returns for a touchdown that you'll ever see at the NFL level.
"We got the punt we wanted and the blocking was great," said Sherels, whose 65-yard touchdown gave the Vikings a 7-3 first-quarter lead en route to a 23-20 victory over the Bears at Soldier Field. "So what I did, it was kind of easy."
Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer put that particular blocking scheme in this week. It was a return right with the Bears' gunner on that side double-teamed by safety Andrew Sendejo and rookie cornerback Trae Waynes.
Veteran cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, once the glamorous return guy in Carolina, single blocked the gunner on the other side. The blocking on both sides was so good that the nearest cover guy was 7 yards away when Sherels caught the ball.
"This is a role I've only done the past three weeks," Munnerlyn said. "But Prief asked me to do it. I was like, 'Man, I'm a punt returner, not a punt blocker.' But Prief knows what he's doing. I'm getting better at it each and every week."
It also helped that the Bears' Pat O'Donnell didn't get much hang time on the punt. That gave Sherels even more time to let the wall to his right form.
Sendejo had the key block that enabled Sherels to turn the corner. Safety Robert Blanton had a similar block a few yards upfield to create the angle Sherels needed to beat linebacker LeRoy Reynolds to the sideline.
"All we did," said Blanton, "was take what Prief drew up and execute it the way he said to."
The touchdown was the third of Sherels' career, breaking the team record he shared with Mewelde Moore and David Palmer. He had 77 yards on three punt returns, bumping his career average up to 10.6 and once again into No. 1 in team history ahead of Moore (10.4).
"I think we were due for a big return," said Sherels, who came into the game averaging 8.7 yards per return. "We were saying all week that we felt this would be the week. My job was to get to the wall. The other guys did a great job making the wall."
Sherels seemed to almost trot the final yards to the end zone. Probably because he had enough escorts to make it clear he wasn't going to be touched.
Running back Jerick McKinnon was running alongside him. And hulking rookie defensive end Danielle Hunter finished off O'Donnell inside the 5-yard line.
"I just turned around and saw Marcus coming," Hunter said. "Then I saw the punter coming and just decided to just lead it in. I think when [O'Donnell] saw me he forgot about trying to make the tackle and just ran down the field with me."
Munnerlyn said he's developing an appreciation for the grunt work that goes into the return games.
"When I was returning punts, I used to be like, 'Man, how can they miss their blocks like that?' " Munnerlyn said. "Now I know. You have to focus. Today, we did a great job and Marcus made one cut and took it to the house."