Vikings Pro Bowl quarterback Daunte Culpepper was 30-of-44 for 322 yards and a touchdown and offset two interceptions, with an 8-yard touchdown on a designed draw play late in the fourth quarter for the go-ahead score. But despite Culpepper's heroics this game was won on third down conversions.
The Vikings were an unconscious 9-of-12 for 75 percent on third down conversions, and the Bucs were an anemic 1-of-8 for 12.5 percent. Most of the Vikings' conversions bordered on the spectacular with diving catches, one-handed snares, second effort lunges and leaping acrobatic grabs by a host of different receivers. This was the major factor that contributed to the huge discrepancy in time of possession with Minnesota keeping the ball for 36:15 as opposed to 23:45 for Tampa Bay.
The bottom line though, was that after a Ronde Barber interception midway through the final period it looked like the Bucs would be able to make their 16-13 lead stand up. But the Vikes defense stiffened after the Buccaneers collected one first down and head coach Tony Dungy decided against a 53-yard field goal attempt. He put the game in the hands of his defense and, after a pooch punt by Mark Royals to the Minnesota 4-yard line; it looked like the right strategy.
This forced the Vikings to go at least 65 yards for a game-tying field goal attempt or 96 yards for the game-winning touchdown. The Vikings did the latter and moved the ball 96 yards in 11 plays against one of the best defenses in the National Football League, a drive that was capped off by Culpepper's winning run.
There were many heroes for the Purple and White on their final drive. Wide receiver Randy Moss, who had five catches for 86 yards, picked up the initial first down taking a screen pass 14 yards on 3rd and 1 from the Minnesota 13. Fullback Jim Kleinsasser, chipping in eight catches for 51 yards, made another shoestring grab for seven yards to move the ball in Tampa Bay territory.
Tight end Byron Chamberlain, who had four catches for 88 yards, made a juggling catch while surrounded by three Bucs defenders to take the ball to the Tampa Bay 3-yard line after racing 37 yards. The biggest was Culpepper, with 20 yards in four carries, who lugged the leather the final eight yards on his own.
The Bucs had one last attempt to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. With just under a minute remaining, and starting from their own 25-yard line, the Bucs moved quickly to the Vikings 18-yard line. A 22-yard catch and run by running back Aaron Stecker, who contributed three catches for 33 yards, and two receptions by wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, who totaled seven grabs for 96 yards, for 21 and nine yards, plus and offside call on Vikings defensive lineman Chris Hovan, had Tampa Bay within striking distance.
But it was not meant to be on this day. An incomplete pass to wide receiver Karl Williams in the end zone preceded a pass intended for Johnson that was batted in the air and intercepted by Eric Kelly.
The Bucs opened the scoring on their first possession. After the Vikings moved with the opening kickoff from their own 25 to two quick first downs, Minnesota tried a play action pass on first-and-10. Culpepper faked a stretch left to running back Michael Bennett, who had 51 yards in 13 carries and caught 6 passes for 26 yards, but the Buccaneers were in a blitz.
The run fake didn't fool linebacker Al Singleton and he forced Culpepper to throw early to Chamberlain. Linebacker Derrick Brooks, who posted 20 tackles (16 solos), made a diving interception of the wounded duck to set up the Tampa Bay offense at their own 46-yard line.
The Pewter Pirates offense moved 47 yards in 10 plays taking 4:14 off the clock. A big third-and-7 was converted with quarterback Brad Johnson, who went 20-of-34 for 224 yards with one interception, hitting Johnson with a 17-yard skinny post to the Minnesota 4-yard line. The drive stalled, and kicker Martin Gramatica kicked a 25-yard field goal from the right hash mark for a 3-0 Buccaneers lead at 7:39 of the initial quarter.
Minnesota struck back on their next possession. The 11-play, 80-yard drive was culminated by a 12-yard skinny post from Culpepper to wide receiver Cris Carter, who had five catches for 62 yards and a touchdown, that took 6:49 off the game clock. The play was an excellent call by Vikings offensive coordinator Sherman Lewis. The Vikings set up in a slot left with Carter wide and Moss in the slot. Moss cleared free safety Dexter Jackson just far enough inside to provide a throwing lane for Culpepper to hit the streaking Carter.
Culpepper kept the drive alive with two third down conversion passes to Chamberlain for eight and 13 yards respectively. Kicker Gary Anderson successful PAT gave the Purple People Eaters a 7-3 lead with 44 seconds left in the first quarter.
After forcing the Bucs to punt on their next possession, the Vikings chewed up 10:33 on their next possession leading to a 24-yard Anderson field goal from the right hash. The 16-play, 74-yard drive was highlighted by four huge third down conversions. Two receptions each by Carter, one of the diving variety, and Kleinsasser kept the chains moving. This gave Minnesota a 10-3 lead with 2:55 left in the second quarter.
The Bucs responded on their next drive with another Gramatica 25-yard field goal from the right hash to trim the Vikings lead to 10-6 just 16 seconds before halftime. Royals did a great job of handling a high snap and getting the pumpkin down so Gramatica could kick it through the uprights.
The eight-play, 65-yard drive took only 2:39 and gave the Buccaneers some momentum heading into halftime.
After an exchange of punts to start the second half, the Bucs put together a 10-play, 53 yard drive that resulted in the third field goal of the afternoon for Gramatica from 49 yards away with 7:02 left in the third quarter. This brought Tampa Bay to within a single digit at 10-9 and kept the Vikings offense off the field for 4:50.
Minnesota answered immediately with a 29-yard Anderson field goal to put the Vikes back up 13-9 at 1:48 of the third quarter. The 12-play, 69 yard excursion took 5:13 to complete but the Bucs saved a touchdown with a great goal line stand. The Vikings had 1st and goal at the Pewter Pirates 2 yard line but were forced to settle for three points.
The Bucs took a short lived lead of 16-13 with 12:44 to go in the game on a six yard scamper by running back Warrick Dunn, who finished with 65 yards on 11 carries and 5 receptions for 34 yards. The Buccaneers marched 75 yards in 8 plays eating up 4:04 of game but the biggest play for the Bucs was a Vikes penalty.
On third-and-7 from the Minnesota 12-yard line, Johnson failed to come down with a catch over the middle. Vikings defensive back Kenny Wright was flagged for a questionable taunting penalty, which gave the Bucs an automatic first down at the 6-yard line. Dunn carried it in for the touchdown on the next play, but re-sprained an ankle and was done for the day.
The Vikes scored the winning touchdown on their next possession to pull out the come-from-behind victory.
For the second straight game, the Bucs sputtered offensively in the red zone. They also sputtered on third down conversions in this contest. Although they amassed 20 first downs, only one of them came on third down, which shows that the Tampa Bay offense made at least 10 yards in two or less downs 19 times which is a positive. The negative is that they only did it once in eight tries with three downs, and that doesn't bode well for sustaining drives. The 1-1 Buccaneers have to get better in that area quickly as they will face a tough, determined, undefeated Green Bay Packers team that is clicking on cylinders on offense and defense next week in Tampa.
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