Vikes Admit Turnovers Hurt

Five turnovers killed the Vikings, and Daunte Culpepper knew he was forcing it at the end.

Ask any NFL coach about what is the biggest difference in winning and losing a game and he'll tell you the same thing — turnovers.

The Vikings were all too familiar with turnovers in their regular-season opener — five of them in all — and it made the difference in a 24-13 loss to the Carolina Panthers at Metrodome Sunday.

"You can't have that many turnovers and expect to win," Daunte Culpepper told VU. "We gave them too many opportunities and it cost us."

The first mistake of the day came on the opening play. The Panthers won the toss and, on the opening kickoff, return man Steve Smith caught the Vikings in a containment seam and was off to the races — running 93 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead just 17 seconds into the game.

"I think it had an effect," coach Dennis Green told VU. "It was a tempo-setter. You go down seven-zip, that's real tough."

The Vikings' misfortunes continued on the first offensive series of the day. The team looked sharp in the first drive, as Daunte Culpepper hit Byron Chamberlain for 9 yards and passes of 7 and 3 yards to Cris Carter to get the Vikings moving, but, on the next pass, Jim Kleinsasser was stripped by Doug Evans and fumbled. Although it looked like he got the ball back, when players unpiled Michael Rucker had the ball for Carolina.

The defenses dominated the next two series, forcing both teams into a three-and-out, but Carolina was winning the battle of field position, opening their second drive on the Vikings 48-yard line. It looked like that drive could sputter as well, as rookie quarterback Chris Weinke was sacked by Fred Robbins on the first play for an 11-yard loss. But Weinke converted a third-and-19 situation with a 31-yard strike over the middle to Isaac Byrd for a first down on the Vikings 26-yard line.

After a personal foul on Todd Steussie backed up the Panthers again, Weinke converted another first down with passes of 8 yards to Tshimanga Biakabutuka and 16 yards to Smith to the 15. The drive seemed to have self-destruct written all over it as, two plays later, Nick Goings fumbled the ball, but Muhsin Muhammad recovered to keep the ball in Carolina's hands. However, two plays later, Biakabutuka caught a short pass and looked for the end zone, only to have Ed McDaniel knock the ball loose. The ball went out of the end zone for a touchback to keep the score 7-0.

As the game moved into the second quarter, the Panthers again came knocking against the Vikings defense. This time it was Goings, who ran consecutive carries of 8, 15, 11 and 3 yards to get the Panthers in close. The Vikings defense stiffened in the red zone, but the damage had been done, as John Kasay notched a 23-yard field goal to give Carolina a 10-0 lead with 11:43 to play in the first half.

The Vikings' woes continued to mount as, on the next drive, Culpepper had a miscommunication with Randy Moss, who had cut off a route, resulting in an easy interception for cornerback Rashard Anderson. While the Vikings defense continued to shut down the Panthers, the Vikings couldn't take advantage.

After getting the ball back quickly, the Vikings again moved up the field. Culpepper scrambled twice for 14 yards and Doug Chapman converted two first downs with runs of 8 and 7 yards to get the Vikings inside the Panthers 30-yard line, but, when the drive stalled, Gary Anderson pushed a 41-yard field goal attempt wide left to keep the Vikes scoreless.

In the final two minutes the Vikings had another chance to score, but again failed. In the hurry-up offense, Culpepper completed a pair of 6-yard passes to Chamberlain and passes of 8 and 10 yards to Harold Morrow. When Culpepper found Jake Reed open for a 26-yard pass down to the Carolina 32, it looked like the team would finally get on the board, but Culpepper's next pass was intercepted in the end zone by Jimmy Hitchcock to send the Panthers to halftime with a 10-0 lead and Culpepper scratching his head.

"I think I have to make better decisions," Culpepper told VU. "There were a couple of times when I tried to force the ball down the field and just didn't make enough plays. It was that simple."

As poor as the first half was, it looked like the Vikings had things solved in the third quarter. After an exchange of punts, the Vikings had the ball at midfield and finally got on the board. Culpepper opened the drive with a 22-yard strike to Chamberlain and then used his legs to end the drive. Following a 6-yard screen to Michael Bennett, Culpepper scrambled 6 yards for a first down and, after finding Chamberlain for 8 more yards, Culpepper scrambled the final 7 yards for a touchdown to cut the deficit to 10-7.

With the offense finally moving, the defense stepped up with a big play. With a blitz coming on Weinke, Talance Sawyer dropped into coverage and intercepted him, allowing the Vikings to again set up shop at midfield. It wouldn't take long to take advantage, as Culpepper hit Moss for 28 yards — his only catch of the day — before finding Carter in the corner of the end zone with a perfect pass and toe-drag for a 12-yard touchdown. The extra point was blocked, but, with 6:05 to play in the third quarter, the Vikings now led 13-10.

The Panthers came right back, though, with an impressive big-play drive of their own. After starting with a 13-yard pass to Donald Hayes, Weinke completed a 43-yard flea flicker to Muhammad to the Vikings 17-yard line. Two plays later, faced with a third-and-9, Weinke delivered a perfect strike to Muhammad for a 16-yard touchdown and with 2:53 to play in the third, Carolina had the lead back at 17-13.

The teams exchanged punts as the game went into the fourth quarter and the Vikings were feeling the desperation of the situation. Feeling the need for a big play, Culpepper tried to force a deep pass over the middle to Moss, only to have the ball picked off by Deon Grant, setting the Panthers up on the Vikings 34-yard line. A 25-yard pass to Wesley Walls on the second play of the drive moved Carolina in close and Weinke sealed the deal with a 1-yard dive over the top for a touchdown and a 24-13 lead with 10 minutes to play.

The Vikings put the final nail in their own coffin during their final drive. Culpepper marched the team downfield with a 27-yard pass to Chamberlain and a pair of 5-yard scrambles, but, when he tried to run the ball in from the 6-yard line, he stuck the ball out at the pylon and it came loose. The play was ruled down at the 1-yard line, but Carolina called for a replay challenge and won — the ball was ruled a fumble that rolled out of the end zone for a touchback — giving Carolina the ball for the last time and sealing the 24-13 win.

The Vikings now move on to play at Baltimore and, for what many thought could potentially be a 2-0 start, the Vikings now have to worry about starting 0-2.

"We have to get past this," Tyrone Carter told VU. "It wasn't how we wanted to start, but we have to get ready for Baltimore next week and that has to start now. We had chances to win and didn't get it done. We have to just make sure we don't make those same mistakes again next week." VU

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