The Vikings converted a quick first down on their opening drive Sunday at Green Bay, but stalled out after three more plays and punter Jeff Locke jogged out onto the field.
Coach Mike Zimmer, however, had no intention to give up the ball on fourth-and-3. He called for a fake punt, giving the direct snap to wide receiver Adam Thielen. The Minnesota State Mankato product proceeded to run for 41 yards and a first down to give the Vikings’ new life and the eventual early 3-0 lead.
Here’s a look at the trick play that jump started the Vikings’ offense en route to a 20-13 victory and the NFC North championship crown:
Frame 1: The Vikings line up with their usual personnel in the punt formation. Thielen is one of the three upbacks and in the personal protector spot as Locke’s last line of defense. Running back Matt Asiata is also an upback position to the right and will play a big role in protecting Thielen throughout the run. The Packers are also in their usual punt formation, but shifted heavy to the left with six rushers to the left the ball.
“The look they gave us was a good look for us,” Thielen said. “We knew that we were going to be aggressive in that game and coaches put us in a great position. The guys in front of me blocked great. I didn’t have to do much other than run.”
Frame 2: The Vikings took advantage of Green Bay loading up to one side of the ball. Though Thielen is lined up to the right where the Packers’ extra pressure will come from, once he takes the direct snap he runs left to find lots of open field. Green Bay tight end Kennard Backman is in position to stop Thielen, but doesn’t pick up on the play before Vikings linebacker Edmund Robinson engages with Backman. Like Thielen, Asiata also immediately breaks to the left as the lead blocker and eventually cuts off Packers safety Chris Banjo. Green Bay cornerback Quinten Rollins and Banjo recognize the fake punt right away, but Vikings tight end Rhett Ellison and Asiata do a good job blocking them out. Linebacker Andy Mulumba eventually catches up and tackles Thielen.
“Especially when you execute it [it helps build confidence],” Thielen said. “It’s one of those things where if coach calls it, you better execute ’cause you don’t want to come to the sideline if you don’t.
“We were excited. I think everybody was excited to run it. Any time you get a chance to do [a fake punt] you want to do it. … From the first snap we wanted to make sure that we were out there, hit them in the mouth, being physical doing our jobs.”
Frame 3: Thielen’s speed beats Backman and linebacker Nate Palmer to the sideline where the field opened up for the 41-yard gain to the edge of the red zone on the 21-yard line. Asiata kept Banjo blocked, but once Thielen cuts back inside around the 25-yard line Mulumba is able to bring him down. The Vikings settled for a field goal on the drive.