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Vikings Roundup 12/5: Double Dose of Returns Provides Remedy

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer said the "splitting headache" he normally has after a game followed him after Sunday's win in which extraordinary plays helped Minnesota defeat Carolina.

"After I relaxed and reflected on a heck of a game, I felt a little bit better," Priefer added.

The dosage that provided relief included the Vikings becoming the fifth team in NFL history to block two punts and return each for touchdowns in the same game.

Adam Thielen set a franchise record when he blocked a punt and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter, and Everson Griffen delivered a record-trumping 43-yard return of a block by Jasper Brinkley in the second quarter to give Minnesota a commanding 21-3 lead. Thielen was named NFC Special Teams Player of Week 13.

The Vikings (5-7) host the Jets (2-10) at noon (CT) Sunday in a game televised by CBS.

Jets punter Ryan Quiqley has had one punt blocked this season, and the Vikings always go into each game with a block they've worked on during the week that they may or may not attempt.

Priefer was asked if the successful blocks can impact future punts or open up opportunities for punt returner Marcus Sherels, who ripped off returns of 26 and 19 yards in the fourth quarter against the Panthers.

"It could. The punter gets the ball off quicker, maybe it's more of a line-drive kick," Priefer said. "I think you go into every game a little bit different. We try to study every punter to see what his normal get-off time is, to see what his normal kick is with the wind, into the wind, crosswind, whatever the case may be, whatever situational punting that they have. We try to put Marcus in the best spot that we can and line him up at the exact yardage we feel like to put him position to be successful and putting pressure on the punter, I think that's going to help as well and hopefully it will down the stretch."

Sherels said he didn't mind running down the field without the ball to congratulate Thielen and Griffen. 

"It was exciting, watching those guys run to the end zone, so I was just trying to go down there and celebrate with them," Sherels said. "We had a few good returns, and our guys did a good job of blocking."

Priefer said kicker Blair Walsh and punter Jeff Locke have been spending parts of their practice weeks away from Winter Park to log more experience kicking inside TCF Bank Stadium and adjust to the winds the Vikings are encountering during this season and next while their new indoor stadium is under construction. 

"It's hard to punt in that stadium," Priefer said. "You guys know how cold it was and it was windy and it was different winds at different altitudes. Our end zone where you come out of our tunnel in pregame, it was a nightmare; it was very difficult to punt from there. I was hoping we didn't have to punt out of that end zone. Putting up with the conditions, I think he's done a great job with that so far. Not a lot of punters would come into that situation with his attitude. I think that's helped him continue to get better as the year has gone on." 

Big plays — and/or consistent performance — on special teams could help significantly in the field position battle against the Jets, who rank seventh in the NFL in yards allowed (322 per game) and are allowing only 85.2 rushing yards a game (third best in the league). 

BERGER/HARRIS COMBO: The Vikings plan to start Joe Berger at right guard and Mike Harris at right tackle for the second straight week. It's the fourth different starting lineup for Minnesota's offensive line this season because of injuries. Berger also played to the left of Harris earlier this season when they respectively relieved John Sullivan at center and Vladimir Ducasse at right guard at Buffalo in Week 7.

Vikings Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner was asked to assess how Berger and Harris did against the Panthers.

"I think Joe has done good the last stretch," Turner said. "That last period of time, he had a couple of tough plays in the Green Bay game. That's what happens. I know the perception that Teddy (Bridgewater) was better in this last week than he was against Green Bay and Chicago, I thought he's been good throughout the last five weeks, and I thought he actually played better in Green Bay than he did in Carolina. We had two or three plays, one of them you mention Joe, where he (Teddy Bridgewater) has a guy running wide open, it's going to be a big play, and the guy on Joe got pressure and knocked Teddy back. Those things didn't happen in Carolina, so it looked better. Joe's done good, considering the circumstances, as I'd say. He's had some tough matchups."

Turner said he thought Harris "did fine," but the limited amount of time he and Berger have played together is a challenge.

"He had a couple of issues on the edge that are fixable, more technique than they are his playing ability," Turner said.

DECKER BACK: Sunday will mark the return to Minnesota by Cold Spring native Eric Decker, who told reporters during a conference call this week he fondly remembers opening TCF Bank Stadium with a win as a member of the Golden Gophers.

Decker joined New York during free agency this offseason after four seasons in Denver, three as a starter. He had 85 catches for 1,064 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2012 and 87 catches for 1,288 yards and 11 TDs the past two seasons as part of a prolific passing game.

"He's got really good ball skills and is good at pretty much every sport he does," said Sherels, a college teammate of Decker's.

This season, Decker has 49 catches for 531 yards and four touchdowns and had two catches for 18 yards Monday against Miami when New York ran the ball 49 times for 277 yards, compared to 65 yards on 7-of-13 passing from Geno Smith.

"That's kind of what we do best," Decker said. "We've got to do some things off the run game and get the pass game going, but all I want to do is be part of a team that has a chance to win." 

TEMPERATURE VARIATION: Decker and the Jets will roam the same sideline he did in college because the Vikings designated what is used as the visitor's sideline in college as its home side because of the sun it receives during games, compared to the other side that is in the shadow of the press box and suites. 

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said the team did a temperature study that evaluated "the sun, the wind, the whole bit," before making the decision that has kept the Vikings warmer.

"We do a temperature reading on the sidelines, and last weekend it was 20 degrees warmer on our sideline than it was on Carolina's sideline," Zimmer said. "In the past three games, one was a 17-degree difference, one was a 15-degree difference and this last week was 20. The players thanked me for being on that sideline a couple times."

The forecast for Sunday's game is 32 degrees Fahrenheit with a 55 percent chance of precipitation. Last week, the air temperature was 12 degrees.

PARTICIPATION: For the Vikings: Jerick McKinnon (lower back), Anthony Barr (knee) and Jabari Price (hamstring) did not participate Friday. McKinnon will not play Sunday, and Barr and Price are listed as doubtful. Zimmer said Gerald Hodges would likely get the call if Barr is unable to play.

For the Jets: Jace Amaro (concussion) and Muhammad Wilkerson (toe) did not participate Friday and have been ruled out.

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