Throwback Thursday: Minnesota Vikings 20, Arizona Cardinals 19 (1997)

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 Arizona
Oct. 5, 1997

The Scenario

Dennis Green's Minnesota Vikings were trying to solidify some early-season momentum when they ventured into the heat of Arizona for a clash with the 1-3 Cardinals. Quarterback Brad Johnson, in his first full season as the team's starter, had led the Vikings to a 3-2 start, relying on 1,000-yard receivers Cris Carter and Jake Reed and fleet running back Robert Smith. On defense, the Vikings were far from the Purple People Eaters, but they sported high-impact players at all three levels in defensive tackle John Randle, linebacker Ed McDaniel and safety Robert Griffith. Vegas installed the Vikes as one-point favorites.

The Game

The Vikings' purple jerseys were soaked with sweat, thanks to the 96 degrees engulfing Sun Devil Stadium. The Minnesota offense started hot with an efficient seven-play, 72-yard drive. Brad Johnson passes to Jake Reed for 21 yards and Cris Carter for 26 more propelled the Vikings to the Cardinals 18. From there, Johnson hit tight end Andrew Glover on the right side for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead.

The Cardinals, quarterbacked by Kent Graham, answered at the end of the first quarter with the foot of Kevin Butler. The veteran booted a 23-yard field goal to complete a time-consuming 10-play, 78-yard march. Early in the second quarter, the Vikings again secured a seven-point lead. A fumble forced by Fernando Smith and recovered by John Randle set up an Eddie Murray 49-yard field goal and a tenuous 10-3 advantage.

Instead of going into a funk, the Cardinals responded with one of their best drives of the season. Graham methodically led them 93 yards for the tying score. The 10th play was a beauty as Graham found Chris Gedney open along the left side for a 33-yard TD reception. Arizona sustained its momentum heading into the locker room. J.J. McCleskey intercepted Johnson's pass intended for Reed to give the Cardinals the ball at the Minnesota 33 with 38 seconds remaining in the half. Butler connected on another 23-yard field goal as time expired for a 13-10 Arizona lead.

A 14-play, 54-yard drive that consumed 7:16 of the third quarter put the Vikings in position to at least tie the game. Facing fourth-and-4 at the Arizona 21, Minnesota lined up for a seemingly automatic 38-yard field goal from Murray. However, holder Mitch Berger bobbled the snap, tried to salvage the play by running with the ball and fumbled when he reached the line of scrimmage. The Cardinals seized control on the turnover. They drove 56 yards in eight plays for a 28-yard Butler field goal and a 16-10 lead. Butler added a 49-yard field goal to give the Cardinals a nine-point cushion with 10:22 left in the game.

Staring at defeat, Minnesota's offense finally woke up. Key passes to Carter, Reed, tight end Hunter Goodwin and fullback Chuck Evans pushed the Vikes to the Arizona 1. Johnson then hit Carter with a TD toss to cut the Cardinals’ lead to two with 4:05 remaining. On the ensuing drive, Arizona nearly consumed all that time. A pass interference penalty on Dewayne Washington followed by a 9-yard LeShon Johnson run gave the Cardinals a second-and-1 at the Minnesota 6 with under two minutes to play. One more yard against the Vikings’ exhausted defense and the Cardinals could just run out the clock. Facing such a dire situation and feeling spent after three-plus hours in 96-degree heat, it would have been easy for the Vikings to fold. Randle, though, wouldn't let that happen. On second down, he plowed through the Cardinals offensive line, forcing Johnson into the grasp of safety Robert Griffith for a 1-yard loss. Now two yards from clinching the game, Arizona handed the ball to Leland McElroy on third down. Linebacker Ed McDaniel dumped him for a 7-yard loss to keep Minnesota alive. The Vikings' spirits were lifted higher when Butler missed the 31-yard field goal attempt wide left.

With 52 seconds on the clock and no timeouts, Minnesota had a chance to steal a win. Johnson, who had struggled for most of the afternoon, took advantage of the reprieve. A 9-yard pass to Carter and a 6-yard connection with Robert Smith moved the Vikings to their own 37. Johnson then threaded a 43-yard strike to Glover in the middle of the field for a first down at the Arizona 20. Improbably, the Vikings were in position to win the game. With 10 seconds left, Murray drilled a 38-yard field goal to deliver a 20-19 victory for Minnesota.

Key Play

Quarterback Brad Johnson found tight end Andrew Glover for a 43-yard reception in the waning seconds to set up Eddie Murray's game-winning field goal.

Vikings Player of the Game

Defensive tackle John Randle. The statistics don't adequately reflect the destructive force he proved to be despite the scorching temperature. The future Hall of Famer recorded 1½ sacks, recovered a fumble and disrupted a critical late play that could have clinched the game for the Cardinals.

Purple Honorable Mention

Tight end Andrew Glover caught six passes for 86 yards and a touchdown.

Post-Game Chatter

(via the Oct. 6, 1997 Minneapolis Star Tribune):

John Randle (Vikings defensive tackle)
"Wearing those purple jerseys makes the heat worse. The purple really soaks up the sun."

Ed McDaniel (Vikings linebacker)
"That was a huge play by Johnny Randle (blowing up the Cardinals attempt for a game-clinching first down). It kept us alive. After that, everyone in the huddle said, 'Let's suck it up and do it again.'"

Cris Carter (Vikings wide receiver)
"One thing that's good about today is that we won without Brad (Johnson) playing his best. Still, Brad made the plays and the offense made the plays that we had to make at the end. In the past, when we haven't played well against a team like this, we've gotten beat. Today, you didn't see our 'A' game on offense, but we still figured out a way to win. That's a positive sign."

Aftermath

Minnesota won its next four games for an 8-2 record. However, a five-game losing skid put their playoff hopes in serious jeopardy. Only a 39-28 victory over the Colts in the regular-season finale allowed them to sneak into the playoffs with a 9-7 mark. In the postseason, the Vikings beat the Giants, 23-22, before falling to San Francisco, 38-22.


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