Game Snapshot: Vikings - Falcons

<p><b>GAME SNAPSHOT</b><br><b>KICKOFF: </b> Sunday, 1:00 ET<br> <b>GAMEDATE: </b> 10/05/03<br> <b> SURFACE:</b> FieldTurf<br> <b> TV:</b> FOX, Sam Rosen, Bill Maas<br><br> <b> SERIES: </b> 23rd meeting. The Vikings lead 14-8, and while the series is 5-5 in Atlanta, Minnesota has won the last three meetings there, all in the Georgia Dome.<br><br>

2003 RANKINGS: Vikings: offense 2nd (7th rush, 9th pass); defense 10th (11th rush, 14th pass). Falcons: offense 31st (21st rush, 28th pass); defense 29th (28th rush, 24th pass)

KEYS TO THE GAME: QB Gus Frerotte is expected to make his second consecutive start in place of Daunte Culpepper (back). The Falcons are allowing 149.8 yards per game on the ground, and the Vikings will try to replicate their game plan from last weekend when they pounded the ball early to draw a safety up, and then burned the secondary with WR Randy Moss. Falcons RB T.J. Duckett is coming off his first 100-yard game and must help Atlanta control the close. Atlanta allowed six sacks last week, and if QB Doug Johnson doesn't get better protection, the Falcons won't be able to establish a downfield passing game.

FAST FACTS: Vikings: They have led for 203:22 minutes this season and trailed for only 15:35. ... Their seven-game winning streak is the longest in the NFL. ... The defense's 11 interceptions are five less than it had all of last season. Falcons: The offense has only two touchdowns in its past 35 possessions. ... Coach Dan Reese will attempt to win his 200th career game for the fourth time.

PREDICTED SCORE: Vikings 30, Falcons 20

QB Daunte Culpepper, who hasn't played in 1 ½ games because of four fractured bones in his lower back, will not play against Atlanta on Sunday. Backup Gus Frerotte will get his second consecutive start.

WR Randy Moss, who has played the last three games in spite of back spasms, missed the latter portion of Thursday's practice because his back tightened up. Tice said Moss was pulled out as a precautionary measure and he still will play Sunday.

WR D'Wayne Bates will miss his third consecutive game because of a bruised bone in his foot. The Vikings believe Bates will be able to return after next week's bye.

DL Billy Lyon, who strained his left calf against the Lions and did not play against the 49ers, practiced again Thursday and will play.

TE Jim Kleinsasser, who suffered an abdominal contusion after falling on the ball late in the first half against the 49ers, is probable.

LB Raonall Smith, who strained his right hamstring against the 49ers, remains questionable.

LB Greg Biekert, who is playing through a rib injury, missed some of Thursday's practice, but he will play Sunday.

RB Michael Bennett fractured his foot in the offseason and is still on the physically unable to perform list. His latest X-rays were positive and he's walking without his protective boot. He won't be allowed to start jogging until late next week.

QB Gus Frerotte never shows emotion, but he couldn't be more excited to be out of Cincinnati. He admits signing the one-year deal with the Bengals last year was a big mistake.

WR Nate Burleson, a rookie, has moved firmly ahead of Kelly Campbell as the No. 2 receiver behind Randy Moss. Burleson is bigger and a better blocker than Campbell. Burleson will get his second consecutive start in place of the injured D'Wayne Bates.

LT Bryant McKinnie is determined to play well this week. When the Vikings played Atlanta last December, McKinnie was making only his third start after a 98-day holdout. The Vikings gave up six sacks that day.

RT Mike Rosenthal had a false start and a holding penalty called against him during the 49ers game.

QB Daunte Culpepper has a weekly radio show on KMOJ-FM in the Twin Cities. He was asked about Rush Limbaugh's comments about Donovan McNabb. Said Culpepper: "When I heard that, I couldn't believe it. That's one of the worst things he could have said. I feel sorry for us as black people that somebody would say something so stupid."

WR Peerless Price practiced Thursday with the Falcons after missing Wednesday's session because of a strained foot arch and sprained neck. He was upgraded from doubtful to questionable, and appears highly likely to play Sunday against the Vikings.

SLB Sam Rogers, who continues to struggle with pain in his left knee (torn cartilage/chondral lesion), did not practice again Thursday, and he was downgraded from questionable to doubtful for the Falcons' game Sunday against Minnesota. He won't play, and there remains a strong chance he'll need surgery for damaged chondral cartilage.

CB Tod McBride, who hasn't played for the Falcons since breaking his right hand/thumb, is virtually certain to debut Sunday against the Vikings. And the Falcons can use him. With starting RCB Tyrone Williams suspended for conduct detrimental to the team, Kevin Mathis will start in his place, but still man the slot in passing situations. McBride, who joined the team last winter as an unrestricted free agent from Green Bay, is most likely to take over the RCB spot in those situations.

SS Cory Hall, who missed the first two games of the season with a sprained right knee and then aggravated the joint last Sunday in Atlanta's game at Carolina, had arthroscopic surgery Thursday to clear debris, probably torn cartilage, out of the joint. He'll probably be out at least another 10 days.

S Travaris Robinson, a rookie free agent from Auburn, is in line to get his first NFL start as Falcons SSs Cory Hall (right knee), Gerald McBurrows (pinched neck nerve) and Kevin McCadams (strained left hamstring) are all injured.

OLB Keith Newman, who was suspended for four games before the season for violating the NFL's banned substance policy, is the leading candidate to start at WLB for the Falcons Sunday against Minnesota. Starter Sam Rogers (left knee/calf) and backup Will Overstreet (strained left shoulder) are almost certain not to play. If something were to happen to Falcons SLB Matt Stewart in the game, Newman would work there, and the team's only other healthy OLB, Karon Riley, would move in at WLB.

QB Mike Vick, who broke his right fibula in an Aug. 16 preseason game against Baltimore, has thrown a football the past two days. He's not moving much, though, and it's really more a matter of tossing the ball about 25 or 30 yards with fellow injured teammates. He's making progress, although the idea of him returning for the Falcons' Oct. 13 Monday night game at St. Louis - which is what some have predicted for some time seems absurd. "Hopefully, on Saturday [Oct. 4] I can ... jog a little bit for the first time," he said. "The thing I'm trying to do now is put some pressure on my toes. Right now, I'm so weak. Until I get some pressure on my toes, and I can get that push like I want I won't be effective. And I'm not coming back and playing until I can be effective."

There's no gamesmanship by the Vikings' coaching staff this week. Coach Mike Tice ruled injured starting quarterback Daunte Culpepper out of Sunday's game against Atlanta late Wednesday night. He announced the decision on Thursday.

That will give Culpepper a full month to heal from the four transverse process bone fractures he suffered two weeks ago against Detroit. The Vikings have a bye next week before playing Denver at the Metrodome.

Backup Gus Frerotte will get his first start on the road as a Viking. Does it rattle him? Of course not. Nothing seems to rattle this guy.

"I will plan this week just like I planned last week," Frerotte said.

Last week, Tice delayed announcing his decision on a starting quarterback until moments before the game. He even made Culpepper the No. 2 quarterback so he wouldn't be announced before game time as the inactive No. 3 quarterback. Culpepper also took snaps on the field during pregame warmups before the 49ers game.

The Vikings are 4-0 and have an NFL-best seven-game winning streak. They own a two-game lead over Green Bay in the NFC North Division.

But they aren't worried about Culpepper not playing.

That's because Frerotte's play the last two games has put them at ease. He preserved a 23-13 victory at Detroit, throwing a 72-yard touchdown pass in the process. And last week, he had only five incompletions and no turnovers while racking up four touchdown passes and a 157.2 QB rating, which is 1.1 points from perfection.

For all that's gone haywire with the Falcons, you wouldn't have known it Thursday. Maybe when starting right cornerback Tyrone Williams was suspended Wednesday for the remainder of the week for conduct detrimental to the team, Atlanta bottomed out.

Wednesday afternoon's practice was deemed the best of the year by several players, and some coaches felt the similarly.

Apparently, as the injury-ravaged, chemistry-challenged Falcons (1-3) are preparing to play host to the Vikings (4-0) Sunday, coach Dan Reeves has responded to feedback from players who felt the length and pace of practice needed adjusting.

"The pace is better, and it's shorter," said special teams standout Travis Jervey. "A couple things have been shortened and simplified."

There was more energy at practice Wednesday, and against Thursday, "probably than we've had since we were getting ready for the playoffs [last January]," said center Todd McClure. "We were just out there having fun."

Several players suggest that even before Williams' suspension, for lashing out at coaches over defensive strategy, a decision was made to be happy and let the chips fall where they may. Reeves and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips had something to do with it as well, preaching to players that they should stop pressing.

"Your attitude is everything. If you've got a good attitude about life, a good attitude about your job, it's just a whole lot easier to go out there and play," said free safety Keion Carpenter. "Everybody in this locker room, the attitude is positive, and it started [Wednesday]. We were laughing, having fun, competing with each other and trying to get each other better."

Something better get better because the Falcons' odds of becoming the first team in the 38-year history of the franchise to make consecutive playoffs berths are going to be very, very long if they lose their fourth straight game.

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