The Bears offense didn’t cross midfield against the Vikings defense until Sunday’s fourth quarter, thanks in part to an unheralded Minnesota punt team.
Ryan Quigley became the first Vikings punter to end a season without a touchback (since touchbacks became a statistic in 1991). He’s just the second in NFL history after Washington’s Sav Rocca in 2013.
Quigley forced three Bears drives to start inside Chicago’s 10-yard line, including two downed by stalwart gunner Marcus Sherels.
“I’ve never played with anybody like [Sherels],” Quigley said. “He’s so talented. So is [safety Jayron] Kearse on the other side. Makes my job so much easier.”
Quigley, punting on his sixth team in six NFL seasons, credited the coverage of his gunners in Sherels and Kearse.
Linebacker Eric Wilson downed a Quigley punt at the Bears 12, which two plays later led to intentional grounding by Chicago quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and a Vikings safety.
Quigley’s punt, which hit the Bears 10-yard line and rolled backward, sparked the necessary rebound.
On the previous attempt, the Vikings had surrendered a fluky 59-yard punt return for a touchdown.
“We fought back and recovered,” Quigley said. “I thought the punt team as a unit came back after that and we helped the team. But especially as we get into these big games, you can’t make a mistake like that.”
With Bears returner Tarik Cohen lurking at his usual spot, cornerback Bryce Callahan sneaked into the play from Chicago’s sideline. Quigley’s punt then forced a “worst-case scenario,” he said, bolting off his foot the wrong way from his coverage team, which was directed toward Cohen.
Quigley’s kick floated to Callahan, who barely scooped up the ball before his untouched run to the end zone.
“They had a good scheme,” Quigley said. “I think they had that guy kneeling on the sideline or something like that, brought him in. We get a better punt, with better hang time there, I think we cover that. It was just a bad punt.”
The punt stuck with Quigley, who after the game said he was unaware he kicked the entire season without a touchback. That streak could serve the Vikings well in the postseason, given how the defense allowed an NFL-low 15.8 points per game.
“We’re trying to go into the playoffs with this momentum, trying to make teams drive the whole field on our defense,” Kearse said. “It’s a tough task.”
Thanks to the Vikings punt team on Sunday, with a new long snapper in Jeff Overbaugh, the Bears offense started five drives inside their own 20-yard line. Chicago managed four punts and took a safety on those possessions.
“I feel bad for the other team,” Quigley said of when he sees the ball downed deep.