Stats Don't Tell Story of Win

The statistics didn't reflect the score Friday night, but wins count and the Vikings led when the starters were pulled and led at the end of the game — the two most important times.

Statistics are used to explain just about everything in the NFL — time of possession, turnovers, first downs, total yards. You name it, they can be used as an excuse why a team won or lost a game.

However, statistics were thrown out the window Friday at the Metrodome, as the Vikings were dominated in many statistical categories but came away with a 28-21 win over the Indianapolis Colts to remain unbeaten at 3-0.

"There are times when games are won or lost on big plays," safety Robert Griffith told VU. "Tonight we had more big plays and it made the difference."

To simply look at the stats, it would seem a miracle the game wasn't 42-10 for the Colts. Indy was just eight seconds short of holding the ball for 40 minutes. The Colts had 25 first downs to just 10 for the Vikes, outgained Minnesota 447 yards to 260 and had 381 passing yards as opposed to just 196 for the Vikings. But big plays would make the difference, although early on it looked on the field like it looked on the stat sheet.

Colts quarterback Peyton Manning carved the Vikings defense on the first drive of the game. He came out passing to his favorite target — wide receiver Marvin Harrison — connecting with him on passes of 9 and 31 yards to get the Colts into Vikings territory. Running back Edgerrin James followed that up with a 17-yard run and, after a 5-yard run by James, Manning found Jerome Pathon wide open in the end zone for a touchdown and the Colts led 7-0 just four minutes into the game.

The Vikings got a big play from kick returner Troy Walters with a 51-yard return of the ensuing kickoff, but the drive stalled immediately and the Vikings had to punt. The Colts got into Vikings territory one play into their next drive on a 19-yard pass to tight end Ken Dilger, but the Vikings defense stepped up behind a big play from new nickel back Tyrone Carter to stop the drive. After a second three-and-out by the Vikings offense, it looked like the Colts would put the hammer down on Minnesota.

Starting from the Minnesota 47, James opened the drive with an 11-yard run. After that, Manning went to the air, completing passes of 18 yards to Harrison and 5 yards each to Marcus Pollard and James to get the Colts to the Vikings 6-yard line, where the Minnesota defense would make a stand. First, Talance Sawyer and Kailee Wong stuffed James for a 5-yard loss and, one play later, Keith Thibodeaux, in for an injured Robert Tate, broke up a pass to force the Colts to settle for a 29-yard Mike Vanderjagt field goal to take a 10-0 lead late in the first quarter.

After the Vikings offense again sputtered, it was up to the defense to make a big play and Wong delivered. With the Colts near midfield, Manning threw a pass behind Harrison, who tipped the ball into Wong's arms. The Vikings had the ball in Colts territory and made the most of the opportunity.

Culpepper got the Vikings into the red zone with a pair of 9-yard passes to Byron Chamberlain, and Michael Bennett did the rest. Following a 6-yard sweep, Bennett burst up the middle through a big hole untouched for a 14-yard touchdown to cut the Indy lead to 10-7 with 9:36 to play in the half.

It looked as though that might be how the game went to halftime, since the next three drives resulted in one first down and three punts, but the big plays were just beginning. Starting from his own 26-yard line, Daunte Culpepper loaded up a bomb for Randy Moss, who got sprung by a downfield block by Andrew Jordan and raced 74 yards for a touchdown to give the Vikings a 14-10 lead with 3:36 to play.

Manning finished the half, despite injuring his right knee and ankle when being rolled up by Chris Hovan on the third play of an 11-play drive to end the half. However, the big play came as the Colts stood on the Vikings 26 with 21 seconds to play in the half, but an interception by Griffith abruptly halted the drive and sent the Vikes to halftime with a 14-10 lead.

It didn't take the Vikings long to make the most of their halftime momentum. With the starters still in, Culpepper hit Cris Carter with a pair of 6-yard passes and, one play later, launched another bomb for Moss, this good for 54 yards in single coverage for a touchdown to give the Vikings a 21-10 lead.

"We showed character," Culpepper told VU. "We started off slow, but even though things go bad sometimes, we had the character to bounce back. You need to have that to be a championship-caliber team."

The Colts were not laying down for the Vikings, however. Backup Mark Rypien came on for the first drive of the second half and engineered a seven-play drive that covered 74 yards and featured running back Jim Finn. Rypien completed three passes of 9 yards each to wide receiver Drew Haddad. But, following a 9-yard run by Finn, Rypien found Finn over the middle in a seam in the Vikings defense and he rumbled 45 yards for a score. After a 2-point conversion run by Brett Millican, the Colts trailed just 21-18 with 8:06 to play in the third quarter.

The Vikings marched right back with Todd Bouman at quarterback, but couldn't finish off the drive the way the team wanted. Bouman threw controlled short passes of 8 yards to Walters, 7 yards to Chris Walsh and Matt Cercone and 12 yards to Shonn Bell to get the Vikings to the Colts 14, but when Bouman took a chance throwing into coverage he was burned by an interception by Clifton Crosby in the end zone to snuff the drive.

Following a three-and-out for the Colts, the Vikings had a turnover that could have changed the game around. James Wofford fumbled on his Vikings 29 and the Colts had a chance to take the lead. But, once again, the Vikings reserve defense refused to give up a first down and the Colts had to settle for a 43-yard field goal by Vanderjagt to tie the game 21-21 with 14:50 to play in the game.

The offenses continued to sputter as Bouman was sacked to end the Vikings' next drive and Willie Howard blew over Rypien to end the Colts' next drive. However, it was the punt following that sack that would give the Vikings the lead to stay. Nate Jacquet took the ball on his own 24 and when he swung out to the left sideline, he had a convoy of Vikings with him. Once he cut back to the middle of the field, he was wide open for a 76-yard return, giving the Vikes a 28-21 lead with 11:14 to play.

The Colts seemed content to play into the Vikings' hands. Starting from his own 14, Rypien ate more than 6 minutes off the clock, but barely got past midfield, holding the ball for 12 plays and gaining just 42 yards in the process — punting to the Vikes with just 4:46 left.

Bouman didn't move the Vikings a lot, but forced the Colts to burn all three time outs before the Vikings punted with 2:03 to play. Once again, the onus was put on the Vikings defense.

This time, the Colts looked more intent on scoring. Starting from his own 17 with no time outs, Rypien completed passes of 7 and 14 yards to Trevor Insley and 20 yards to Terrence Wilkins to get the ball in Vikings territory with 1:13 to play. Rypien continued to move the Colts with passes of 7 and 5 yards to Insley and 7 yards to Wilkins to get the ball to the Vikings 23. But, when Rypien went for the tie, linebacker Jim Nelson dropped into coverage and made the crucial interception that would end the game.

With the victory, the Vikings are now 3-0 in the preseason and, while the statistics may not have shown it, the team is confident that they're turning an important corner on defense.

"We're getting better," Wong told VU. "We've had some mistakes, but as a whole I think we've played better all along and want to keep moving in that direction." VU

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