Somebody's freefall was bound to end Sunday in Oakland.
This time it was the Oakland Raiders ending their recent losing ways in defeating the Minnesota Vikings 28-18. The Raiders snapped a five-game losing skid with the win while Minnesota has now lost four consecutive games. The Vikings (6-4) loss coupled with Green Bay's 20-13 win over Tampa Bay trims Minnesota's lead in the NFC North to one-game, as Green Bay is now 5-5.
"I'm very pleased with our effort today," Oakland head coach Bill Callahan said. "It's great to break a streak and get a victory."
Oakland (3-7) rushed for 191 yards with Tyrone Wheatley gaining 109 of them while the Raiders also forced six turnovers. Oakland also held Minnesota All-Pro wide receiver Randy Moss to just four catches for 25 yards.
The Raiders, who visit Kansas City Sunday, clinged to a precarious 21-18 lead with just over two minutes left in the game. Oakland quarterback Rick Mirer made a dash toward the left pylon before leaping into the air at the same time Ken Irvin hit him. Mirer was stopped shy of the first down, forcing fourth-and-one from the Viking 2-yard line. Callahan decided to challenge the spot of the ball but replay did not overturn the call.
Instead of kicking a chip-shot field goal, the Raiders decided to go for the first down. Zack Crockett plowed behind fullback Chris Hetherington and left guard Brad Badger for a touchdown to put the game away with 2:16 left. That clinching score was set up by a Rod Woodson interception.
"While we challenged I had time to rethink what we were doing," Callahan said. "Where we were at on the field, I felt confident."
The Raiders much maligned defense came up with the first big play of the game when cornerback Phillip Buchanon stepped in front of a Daunte Culpepper pass intended for Jim Kleinsasser on the third play from scrimmage of the game. Buchanon then raced down the right sideline for a 64-yard interception return.
Minnesota cut the lead to 7-3 on a 35-yard Aaron Elling field goal with 11:24 left in the second quarter. That drive was set up by Vikings defensive tackle Fred Robbins recovering a Zack Crockett fumble at the Oakland 27.
Oakland fattened the lead to 14-3 when Crockett scored on a 1-yard at the 8:22 mark of the second quarter. Crockett appeared to be stopped initially but kept plowing and the ball crossed the plane of the goal line. That play was set up when Oakland linebacker Napoleon Harris sacked Culpepper after blitzing virtually untouched up the middle. Harris forced the fumble, which defensive tackle Rod Coleman recovered at the Minnesota 1.
"They got after Moss," Woodson said. "The pass rushers got him (Culpepper) out of the pocket quite a bit and our guys were holding up against their receivers."
The Raiders lead swelled to 21-3 with 11:23 left in the third quarter when Tyrone Wheatley scored on a 3-yard run behind center Barret Robbins on a draw play. That score was set up by Crockett's 43-yard run, the longest of his career, to the Minnesota 8.
The Vikings, however, began cutting into Oakland's lead late in the third quarter when Culpepper scored on an 11-yard keeper up the middle. Culpepper first looked to his right and then dashed into the end zone. The touchdown was set up by a 40-yard Culpepper-to-Michael Bennett connection coupled with a Tyler Brayton roughing the passer infraction.
The Vikings later trimmed the margin to 21-18 when Culpepper connected with Kelly Campbell over the middle for a 29-yard touchdown pass at the 8:32 mark of the fourth quarter. Culpepper then hit Hunter Goodwin for the two-point conversion.
Minnesota, however, would get no closer and the Raiders – at least for a week – end their losing ways.
Vince D'Adamo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org