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Updated: September 30th, 2012 9:47pm
Notebook: Percy Harvin, Marcus Sherels drive Vikings' special delivery

Notebook: Percy Harvin, Marcus Sherels drive Vikings' special delivery

by Tom Pelissero
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DETROIT -- It took all of 12 seconds for Percy Harvin to give the Minnesota Vikings a lead they never relinquished on Sunday at Ford Field.

It didn't take much longer for Marcus Sherels to extend that lead to 14 early in the second half, lifting the Vikings to a 20-13 win upset of the Detroit Lions on a day the offense didn't score a touchdown.

Harvin returned the opening kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown, and Sherels had a 77-yard punt return after the Lions' opening drive of the second half ended in a punt.

"You talk about starting fast," coach Leslie Frazier said. "That's exactly what happened on both those occasions."

Harvin caught the Jason Hanson's kickoff outside the numbers, followed the wall to the right, made one cut to get inside Jonte Green, turned the corner on Hanson near midfield and wasn't touched all the way to the end zone.

"It was great blocking by the 11 guys up front," Harvin said. "It was a great call by Coach (Mike Priefer). They overplayed it. The blockers did a great job and I did the easy part."

The call was a "bounce-right" return, and Hanson's kickoff landed off the far numbers, just where the Vikings had practiced it all week.

"We saw some things that we pointed out, that if everybody holds their block, Percy's going to score," Frazier said. "It was obvious. There were some things that we saw if we just held our blocks and our guys did it. They leveraged the football, they got where they needed to be and Percy did the rest. "

It was the longest play in Vikings history and the fifth career kickoff return touchdown for Harvin, who owns the team record and has three of the four longest kickoff returns in team history. He's also only the fifth player in NFL history to have at least five kick-return touchdowns in his first four seasons, joining Gale Sayers, Josh Cribbs, Justin Miller and Travis Williams.

That would have made for a banner day for Priefer's unit even before Sherels broke Kassim Osgood's tackle at almost the same time he caught the ball, found his way through traffic and had a caravan up the left sideline his first career touchdown.

"We give (Sherels) a little leeway," Frazier said. "Priefer's tried to coach him up on when to fair catch and when not to, and a lot of times, it's his judgment. He's the one who has to make that decision, and I'm glad he made that decision. It turned out to be a great run."

It was the third time in Vikings history they've returned a kickoff and punt for a score in the same game. The other occasions were on Dec. 12, 1999, at Kansas City (Randy Moss and Robert Tate) and Nov. 13, 2005, against the New York Giants at the Meadowlands (Mewelde Moore and Koren Robinson.

Meanwhile, the Lions became the first team in NFL history to allow a kickoff and punt return touchdown in the same game two consecutive weeks. Tennessee's Tommie Campbell (65-yard punt return) and Darius Reynaud (105-yard kick return) got them last week.

"We didn't get guys off blocks and we gave up on a touchdown (to Harvin)," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. "The other one -- honestly, I thought we were going to force a fumble on the play. had a free guy and I couldn't believe he didn't fair-catch the ball. He ran through one tackle and we did an absolutely poor job."

Neither Vikings return man got another opportunity. The Lions pooched two of three remaining kickoffs to keep the ball away from Harvin, putting another in the end zone for a touchback when the Vikings had their hands team on the field late, and Sherels fair-caught the only other ball punted to him.

Firing back

The Lions answered Harvin's early touchdown with a field goal after a four-play, 58-yard scoring drive, keyed by Jamarca Sanford's 56-yard pass interference penalty on the opening snap.

Kevin Williams was offside, giving Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford a free play. The Vikings were in single-high coverage and Calvin Johnson had a couple of steps on Chris Cook, who couldn't catch Stafford's pass up the seam as Sanford grabbed Johnson to draw the flag.

The Vikings went to heavy two- and three-deep coverage on the Lions' next drive and rolled coverage toward Johnson, who was targeted 12 times and finished with five catches for 54 yards, none longer than 19.

"That was the game plan -- make them have to throw the ball underneath and get yards that way and not the big plays down the field," Frazier said. "That was the approach and they were able to get that P.I., but our guys stood up, forced a field goal, which I thought was huge, because it had a chance to give them a chance to regain the momentum."

Johnson entered with a league-high 369 receiving yards and nine catches of 20 yards or more. He had a chance for a 13-yard touchdown in the second quarter, but safety Harrison Smith jarred loose the ball with a hit in the end zone. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew dropped a pass on the next play and the Lions settled for another field goal.

"It was just an example of our physical our back end played (Sunday), our secondary," Frazier said. "They were physical throughout the game and made some of those guys think about catching balls crossing the field."

One too many

Linebacker Chad Greenway put a lick on Johnson, too. But his yielded a 15-yard penalty and may bring a fine from the NFL, too.

It happened early in the fourth quarter, when Stafford tried to hit Johnson on a drag route. Greenway said he "tried to" pull up, but replays showed his shoulder connected in Johnson's head/neck area after the ball glanced past.

"You feel bad about that," Greenway said. "Obviously, I don't want to get a penalty, for starters, to hurt our team. I certainly don't want to get a fine, because my wife will yell at me. And I don't want to hurt Calvin. I don't want to hurt anybody.

"For me, as a player, I'm thinking, he's going to catch that ball 99 percent of the time. He didn't that time, so when I go up to try to break the ball up, my pad -- it's clear on the tape that it hits his head. What are you going to do? They're going to throw the flag and I'm probably going to be assessed a fine and that's just the way they're going to do it."

Creating problems

The Lions secondary had penalty problems of its own. Cornerback Bill Bentley was flagged twice for interfering with Jerome Simpson on go balls up the left sideline.

The first cost the Lions 31 yards late in the first quarter. The second went for 26 yards in the second quarter. Both put the Vikings in range for Blair Walsh field goals that helped them build a 13-6 lead.

"I was just going out there and trying to go for the ball," Simpson said. "He committed a foul and the refs -- good old original refs are back -- so they called a good call."

Suspended the first three games for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy, Simpson got his first regular-season catch in a Vikings uniform on the opening drive, for 6 yards against veteran cornerback Chris Houston.

He caught a "go" ball over Bentley for 27 yards late and finished with a team-high 50 yards on four receptions from Christian Ponder, who was 16-of-26 passing for just 111 yards and a 71.2 rating.

"Christian just made a great decision," Simpson said. "We were on the same page. We've been working all week and we just made a connection to try to seal the game up."

Taking him away

The Vikings needed all the production they could get from Simpson on a day the Lions plainly schemed to take away the short passing game to Harvin, who entered the game with a league-high 27 receptions.

He had only three for 22 yards in six targets on Sunday, with another batted down at the line.

"When your focus is on Percy or elsewhere, we're just going to keep handing the ball off," Ponder said. "Obviously, that worked. We kept running the ball and kept pounding it and kept getting yards."

Half of the Vikings' 56 plays were runs and they were productive in the phase, averaging 4.5 yards. Their 100 net passing yards (including two sacks) was their lowest total since they had 28 with Donovan McNabb under center in the 2011 season opener at San Diego.

"Obviously, as an offense, we wish we could be more productive," Ponder said. "But we didn't have to (Sunday) and we decided to run the ball and keep the clock moving and keep us in it.

"Defense and special teams -- they came up huge. I don't know what the stats look like, but as long as we're winning, I'll keep handing it off to Adrian (Peterson) and Toby (Gerhart) and they're going to keep chugging along."

Health watch

Receiver Michael Jenkins left with a rib injury in the second quarter. His return was announced as questionable, but he was back on the Vikings' next series.

Frazier said Jenkins will undergo X-rays to make sure there's no damage.

Cornerback Josh Robinson missed a series after leaving the field on a cart but returned. So did nose tackle Letroy Guion, who briefly received medical attention on the field.

Frazier didn't mention any other injuries after the game.

Quick hits

• Rookie PK Blair Walsh's first career field-goal miss came was wide left from the right hash at 46 yards early in the fourth quarter.

• CB A.J. Jefferson filled in briefly for Robinson in the nickel.

• TE John Carlson's first Vikings catch lost 1 yard in the first quarter.

• The Vikings' captains were CB Antoine Winfield, DE Brian Robison and C John Sullivan. They won the toss and elected to receive.

Tom Pelissero is Senior Editor and columnist for He hosts from 6 to 8 p.m. weeknights and co-hosts from 10 a.m. to noon Sundays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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