After riding high on the emotion of losing Pro Bowl right tackle Korey Stringer to heat stroke in training camp, the Vikings raced out to an undefeated 4-0 mark in the preseason. But the team may not have any emotional fuel left in the tank after a 24-13 loss to the lowly Carolina Panthers in the team's home opener on opening day. Minnesota's defense, which is not too highly regarded after losing star players such as DT John Randle and OLB Dwayne Rudd, can't stop weak offenses, and the Vikings' usually stunning, high-scoring offense hasn't found any rhythm after two shocking losses.
Minnesota's second loss, on Sunday in Chicago, saw the offense generate only 10 points. Though Randy Moss rebounded from his one-catch, 28-yard performance against Carolina to haul in five grabs for 81 yards against the Bears, he has yet to eclipse the 100-yard receiving mark in a game and has yet to find the end zone. Moss' teammate, Cris Carter, only had one catch for 13 yards against Chicago, after catching five passes for 44 yards in the season opener. Carter too, has failed to score a touchdown.
In a surprising twist of events, new tight end Byron Chamberlain actually leads the Vikings' receiving corps with 12 catches for 133 yards. Moss and Carter are second on the receiving list with six catches, followed by fullback Jim Kleinsasser, who has totaled five catches for 50 yards in two games.
Quarterback Daunte Culpepper only has two touchdown passes compared to his three interceptions, and is Minnesota's leading rusher. Culpepper has 20 carries for 99 yards and a touchdown in two games. Rookie running back Michael Bennett has yet to rush for 100 yards in a game, and has been largely ineffective with 27 carries for 93 yards (3.4 avg.) this season. It is obvious that the Vikings are missing Robert Smith's veteran presence and game-breaking ability in both the running and the passing game.
The Vikings are also missing another Robert - Pro Bowl strong safety Robert Griffith - who will be out some time with a broken fibula he suffered early in the game against Chicago. Griffith will be out for this week's game against the Buccaneers and is slated to miss at least half the season. Untested second-year safety Don Morgan will take Griffith's place in the lineup. Still, Griffith's leadership and confidence in the secondary will be missed.
Also missing is the veteran presence along the offensive and defensive lines. Minnesota must also shore up against the pass rush and generate some pass rush of its own. Through two games, the Vikings have given up four sacks and only recorded two.
With Minnesota already down 0-2 in the National Football Conference and 0-1 in the NFC Central, the Buccaneers will be facing a dangerous Vikings team with its back against the wall in Week 3. But a Tampa Bay win in Minneapolis on Sunday could deal a severe blow to Minnesota's playoff hopes and send the team reeling.
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