Flashback Friday (1999): Minnesota Vikings 23, Denver Broncos 20

The Minnesota Vikings and Denver Broncos were both coming off big seasons, but neither was dominant in 1999. Cris Carter had an electrifying second half to give the Vikings a close win in Denver.

Each week during the 2015 season, Viking Update examines a past game against the Vikings' upcoming opponent. Some of the choices are obvious; others are not. However, all the games chosen stand the test of time.

This Week

Minnesota at Denver
Oct. 31, 1999

The Scenario

Vikings fans were justifiably spooked going into this Halloween encounter at Mile High Stadium against the two-time defending Super Bowl champion Broncos. A year after compiling a 15-1 record and losing the NFC Championship game to Atlanta in overtime, many pundits agreed with the Purple Nation that the Vikings would waltz their way to the big dance in 1999. However, the Vikings' playoff possibilities were precarious heading into this key clash, thanks to a 3-4 record. The previous season's electrifying offense sputtered under quarterback Randall Cunningham, who regressed from Pro Bowler to backup during a 2-4 start. Veteran QB Jeff George, signed as an insurance policy in the offseason, paid immediate dividends, leading the Vikings to a 40-16 win over San Francisco in his first start for the club the previous week. To climb out of its early-season hole, Minnesota desperately needed a win over the Broncos, whose Lombardi Trophy glow had dimmed. The two keys to their back-to-back titles were gone. Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway retired and a season-ending knee injury sidelined All-Pro running back Terrell Davis. Under first-year starting QB Brian Griese, the Broncos were 2-5. Oddsmakers pegged the Vikes as 2.5-point favorites.

 The Game

The Vikings didn't play like favorites in the first quarter. Denver took early command with a seven-play, 70-yard march, culminated by a 36-yard touchdown run by Derek Loville. A few minutes later, Minnesota thought it tied the score when Jeff George connected with Randy Moss on an 84-yard pass play. However, pass interference on the second-year receiver nullified the touchdown. On the next snap, Denver scored when Trevor Pryce sacked George in the end zone for a safety. The Broncos grew their lead to 12-0 on their ensuing drive with a Jason Elam 19-yard field goal.

The much-maligned Minnesota defense provided a spark midway through the second quarter. Safety Orlando Thomas darted in front of Rod Smith to intercept a Brian Griese pass and scampered 27 yards untouched to the end zone for a momentum-swinging score.

The Vikings offense then did its part with a series of plays befitting the spirit of Halloween. Three penalties in four snaps pushed Minnesota to its own 10, where it faced third-and-37. Leroy Hoard took the seemingly innocuous handoff from George and went up the gut … for 53 yards and a first down! The Vikings took advantage of the stunned Broncos on the next play when George hit Cris Carter with a 37-yard touchdown strike. A two-point conversion attempt failed, leaving the Vikings on top 13-12.

Denver had a golden opportunity to retake the lead before the end of the half, driving from its 20 to the Minnesota 6-yard line. But John Randle forced a Griese fumble that Ed McDaniel recovered to end the scoring threat and the half.

Carter's 37-yard touchdown was his only catch of the first half. While keying on Moss, the Broncos were happy with Carter's limited production. Their feelings changed by the end of the game. Carter enjoyed one of his greatest afternoons in the second half. On the unseasonably warm 75-degree day, the future Hall of Famer dominated the Broncos' secondary with a series of highlight-worthy catches. From diving fingertip grabs in the middle of the field to tiptoe-defying sideline receptions, Carter snagged seven passes in the second half for 107 yards, including a 16-yard TD that gave the Vikings a 20-12 lead with 12:45 remaining.

To their credit, the Broncos didn't quit. A 1-yard pass from Griese to tight end Byron Chamberlain and a successful 2-point conversion tied the game with just over five minutes to play. The Vikings responded by putting together one of their most impressive drives of the season. Starting at his own 22, George methodically directed the Vikings to the winning score, completing two passes to Moss for 37 yards and three passes to Carter for another 37 yards. Gary Anderson booted a 23-yard field goal with four seconds on the clock to deliver the big win for the resurgent Purple Gang.

Key Play

Jeff George's 24-yard pass to Cris Carter, which put the Vikings on the Denver 3-yard line and set up Gary Anderson for the game-winning field goal. Running a corner route, Carter exhibited amazing body control by extending for the ball and managing to keep both feet in bounds.

Vikings Player of the Game

Cris Carter. His numbers were quite impressive: eight receptions for 144 yards and two touchdowns. But the ease in which he made difficult, clutch catches look routine left members of both teams in awe. His performance began a personal streak of four consecutive 100-yard receiving games.

Purple Honorable Mention

Safety Orlando Thomas gave the Vikings a huge lift with his 27-yard interception return for a touchdown. Thomas' play was even more impressive considering he was battling the flu throughout the afternoon, a condition exacerbated by Denver's thin air.

Post-Game Chatter

(via Minneapolis Star Tribune):

Cris Carter (Minnesota wide receiver)

"It's pretty much unbelievable, to tell you the truth. It was as if the game was in slow motion. It really was. I was really looking forward to going against (Ray) Crockett. It was a challenge for me that they were going to double Randy (Moss) or put the best defender on Randy. I have to make some plays. It's really an unbelievable feeling to feel the way I was. It's indescribable."

Ray Sherman (Minnesota offensive coordinator)

"He (Carter) played as good a game as a receiver as I've seen."

Aftermath

The Vikings went 8-2 with Jeff George as the starting quarterback to finish the regular season at 10-6 and make the playoffs as a wild card. In the first round, Minnesota routed Dallas 27-10. The Vikings' season ended the following week in St. Louis as the eventual Super Bowl champs overwhelmed the Purple defense, 49-37.   


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