The final game of the preseason for the Vikings pretty much mirrored the rest of the 2001 campaign to date — the high-powered Vikings offense comes out sluggish, plays a little longer than many people anticipated, doesn't leave until the team has a lead and lets the backups preserve the victory.
This time it was a 20-7 win over the Dolphins at Pro Player Stadium, a game in which the Vikings fell behind — only to score 20 unanswered points to end the game. As has become habit, the Vikes got off to a slow start, only to blow up in the second quarter.
Coming into Friday's game, the Vikings had scored just seven first-quarter points all season and that didn't change vs. the Dolphins. But it was the Vikings defense, which has struggled early in most games, that had to produce early. Miami took the opening kick and, thanks to a false start call on former Viking Hunter Goodwin and a 2-yard loss for Lamar Smith on his first carry, the Vikings forced a three-and-out and got the first chance to do some damage.
It wasn't to be, however. After Daunte Culpepper opened the game with passes of 4 yards to Michael Bennett and 5 yards to Andrew Jordan, fullback Jim Kleinsasser was asked to convert the short-yardage situation. However, a blown assignment allowed defensive end Kenny Mixon to cruise in untouched and stop Kleinsasser for a 1-yard loss to force another punt.
The Dolphins tried to prove a point offensively on the next drive, only to have it backfire on them. Jay Fiedler completed a pair of 17-yard passes to Goodwin and wide receiver James McKnight to get into Vikings territory, but, faced with a fourth-and-1 from the Minnesota 41, the Dolphins went for it. But Smith was stuffed by Fred Robbins for a 1-yard loss to turn the ball over on downs.
The Vikings still could get nothing done on offense and punted right back to Miami, which finally strung together a drive with backup Ray Lucas at quarterback. He began the drive by converting a third down with a 7-yard pass to tight end Jed Weaver and, one play later, Travis Minor took a sweep 18 yards. Lucas then got Miami into Vikings territory with a 6-yard scramble that had 5 more yards tacked on by a facemask penalty on Robert Griffith. While the drive stalled, it showed Miami it could move the ball on the Vikes and a turnover would help solidify that thought.
The Vikings offense looked in old-cruise mode as Culpepper hit Randy Moss for a 25-yard strike, but, on the next play, miscommunication on a long pass for Moss led to an easy interception by Sam Madison, who returned the pick 59 yards to the Vikings 24. Following runs of 9 and 10 yards by Minor, the Vikings looked to have the drive stopped on the 3-yard line when a third-down pass was tipped by Lance Johnstone. However, the replacement officials missed the tip and flagged Griffith for pass interference. The new chance allowed Lucas to roll out for a 1-yard TD run and give Miami a 7-0 lead with 14:09 to play in the second quarter.
It seemed as though the Vikes needed that adversity to get the offense rolling. A 9-yard Bennett run was converted into a first down with a 3-yard sneak by Culpepper and, one play later, Culpepper scrambled for 23 yards that had 15 more tacked on by a personal foul on Miami to put the ball on the 17-yard line. Following a pass deep into Dolphins territory to Byron Chamberlain, Culpepper hit a timing pass to Moss for a 6-yard touchdown, and with 10 minutes left in the half the game was tied 7-7.
The Vikes looked to take control after forcing a three-and-out for Miami, but turnovers intervened. The Vikings covered most of the required distance on two plays — a 34-yard pass to Cris Carter and a 25-yard scramble by Culpepper to get the ball to the 3-yard line, but, as Culpepper threw for the go-ahead touchdown, his arm was hit and the pass was intercepted by Jamar Fletcher to turn the ball over with 3:31 to play in the half.
The Vikes defense again rose to the occasion, forcing a three-and-out. Todd Bouman moved the Vikings 40 yards with four straight completions in the final minute to set up a 36-yard Gary Anderson field goal to send the Vikings to halftime with a 10-7 lead and continuing a second-quarter dominance — the Vikes outscored preseason opponents 55-7 in the second quarter of games.
The second half started as sloppy as the first. Neither Bouman nor Miami QB Cade McNown did anything with their first two drives, leaving the Vikings with the ball on their own 24 midway through the third. The running game kicked up a notch for the Vikes, as Doug Chapman raced 11 yards for one first down and Moe Williams' first carry of the preseason covered 26 yards to the Miami 26. The drive stalled there and so did the scoring chance, as Anderson pushed a 43-yard field goal attempt wide right to keep the score 10-7 with 3:57 to play in the third.
Miami continued to struggle on offense and, given another chance, Anderson made amends. Nate Jacquet brought a punt back 51 yards to the Miami 31. The drive didn't do much but left Anderson with an identical 43-yard attempt. This time he hit it, giving the Vikings a 13-7 lead with 3 seconds to play in the third quarter.
Miami may have officially given up on the next play. McNown looked like he was going for a deeper target on his next pass, but tight end Ed Perry jumped up and tipped the ball, which fell into the arms of Don Morgan and the Vikings 41. With Miami already missing both starting defensive tackles, when reserve Everett Grant went down, Miami was forced to put offensive guard Ben Adams on defense and the Vikings attacked him like a hungry dog.
Chapman got the drive started with runs of 9 and 2 yards to move the chains and, one play later, burst off tackle at Adams for 11 more yards and a first down on the Miami 38. Williams then took over with runs of 4 and 9 yards for another first down. After Bouman recognized a blitz and threw a hot route to TE Matt Cercone for 12 more yards, it was back to the ground attack. Williams ran up the middle for 3 yards before Bouman scrambled for 6 more and converted a third-and-short with a 3-yard sneak. From there, Chapman came back in and scored on a 1-yard dive over the top of the pile to finish the drive and give the Vikings a 20-7 lead with 8:29 to play.
It was obvious the Dolphins just wanted to get the game over. On the next drive, the team ran three times and punted. After the Vikings did the same, Miami once again kept the ball on the ground, milking the clock down to 2 minutes before punting. Seeing that Miami was waving the white flag, the Vikings and third-string QB Romaro Miller simply knelt on the ball to bring the game to an end and give the Vikings a 20-7 victory.
With the win, the improbable Vikings preseason ended with a 4-0 record. Thanks to a San Diego loss later Friday night, the Vikings were the only NFL team to finish the preseason with a perfect 4-0 record and set up a regular-season opener in which the Vikings have set the table for themselves to get off to a solid start to the regular season.
Considering that the Vikings didn't have much of a training camp due to the tragic death of Korey Stringer, it has been amazing how well the team has performed under adversity and, if Dennis Green needed anything to motivate his team to perform in the preseason, that is clearly a job done successfully. Now comes the regular season, as the team hopes to build on the momentum it created in the preseason. VU
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