The Vikings special teams has gained a league-wide reputation for being a strong unit, and the 2016 season was no different.
Minnesota fielded one of the top returner duos in Cordarrelle Patterson and Marcus Sherels, and punter Jeff Locke played a crucial role in a number of games.
Patterson led the league in kickoff return average (31.7 yards) during the regular season. The 2013 first-round pick became the first player in NFL history to accomplish the honor three times, and he received his **second career Pro Bowl nod**.
Sherels ranked second in the league for average punt return yards (13.9), despite missing five games due to injury. He returned punts for touchdowns at Carolina and against Houston, both of which ended in Minnesota victories. Sherels now has a franchise-record five punt return scores.
Here are the Vikings top five special teams plays, determined by the Vikings Entertainment Network, of the 2016 season (in no particular order):
Cordarrelle Patterson downs ball at the 2 at Carolina
When the Vikings were down 10-2 to the Panthers and looking to get back on track defensively, Patterson capitalized on a special teams opportunity.
Locke kicked a 58-yard punt after Minnesota went three-and-out partway through the second quarter. Locke dropped the ball near the Panthers 5-yard line, already giving a field position advantage to the Vikings, but Patterson carefully tracked the pigskin's bounce and downed it just inside the 2.
On the subsequent drive, Minnesota's defense held Carolina its own 10-yard line, and Sherels returned the Panthers punt for a touchdown.
Jeff Locke Boots 73-yard punt against Arizona
One of Locke's better games of the season came against the Cardinals at U.S. Bank Stadium.
With just over two minutes left on the clock, Minnesota was forced to punt while hanging on to a 6-point lead. The Vikings needed a lot of leg from Locke, who already had three 50-yard punts on the day, and he delivered.
Locke's punt landed near the Arizona 30-yard line but then gave a favorable roll for Minnesota and was downed at the 13. His 72-yard boot marked the longest of his career and pinned the Cardinals deep inside their own territory.
Arizona was unable to make any headway, and Minnesota walked away with a much-needed win after four consecutive losses.
Marcus Sherels recovers muffed punt against Giants
Sherels, with the help of Patterson, helped swing the momentum in Minnesota's favor early on in the Week 4 game.
The Vikings were held by the Giants in their first drive of the evening, and Locke punted from the end zone. Giants returner Dwayne Harris muffed the ball at his own 38-yard line under heavy pressure by Patterson.
Sherels didn't lose sight of the ball when Harris lost control, and he immediately fell on it to give the Vikings back possession.
Minnesota took over on New York's 41, and the drive ended in a 1-yard touchdown run by Matt Asiata to give the Vikings an early 7-0 lead over the Giants, whom they ultimately defeated to extend their win streak to 4-0.
Sherels scores 5th career punt return touchdown against Houston
Sherels helped the Vikings run away with a win against the Texans – literally.
Minnesota's defense forced Houston to go three-and-out in a second-quarter series, and Sherels fielded the Texans punt on his own 21-yard line. After angling up the field and making a quick turn back inside, Sherels juked his way through the middle. He was free of all defenders by the time he reached midfield and ran the final 50 yards to the end zone, where he was caught up to and congratulated by Vikings teammates.
Sherels' 79-yard return for a touchdown gave Minnesota a 24-0 lead over Houston and aided in the Vikings fifth consecutive victory of the season.
While Sherels had entered the game with four punt return touchdowns under his belt, the play was his first score in front of a home crowd.
Patterson returns kickoff 104 yards for TD against Arizona
Locke wasn't the only special teamer that helped Minnesota gain a victory over Arizona.
The Vikings entered halftime with a 3-point advantage over the Cardinals, and Arizona's Chandler Catanzaro kicked off to start the third quarter. Patterson fielded the kick and ran it out of the end zone on all cylinders.
After angling up through the middle, past defenders and a last-ditch effort by Catanzaro, Patterson was gone. He sprinted the final stretch with no pressure behind him, and added another six points for the Vikings.
With a made extra point by Kai Forbath and field goal late in the quarter, the Vikings capitalized on Patterson's energy and finished with the 30-24 win.