Vikings Lose, But First Team Sharp

The Vikings lost to Jacksonville 16-14 in the preseason opener, but there were good and bad parts to what was accomplished for young and old players alike on the field.

With every move under the microscope of tomorrow's film session, players made their first impressions of the preseason. While the final score was 16-14 in favor of Jacksonville, the score with the players who will contribute during the season was Vikings 7, Jaguars 0 after two drives with the first-liners for Minnesota.

When it counted — with both first teams still in the game — all three components of the Vikings team made statements: The Vikings offense can still move the ball. The Vikings defense can still run hot an cold, with what looks to be a more attacking and successful defensive line that mostly shut down the Jaguars on third downs. And the special teams still have work to do on their returns, coverage and penalties.

Penalties in all facets of the game eventually kept the Vikings from comeback aspirations in the fourth quarter, and special teams was the aspect of the game that head coach Mike Tice cited as needing the most work.

The defense held Jacksonville to 1-for-10 on third-down conversions, but four fumbles (two lost) did in the Vikings on the scoreboard. Onterrio Smith led the Vikings with 33 yards rushing, but other running backs fumbled away their chances. The defensive line started to jell, with Kenny Mixon getting a sack and Lance Johnstone getting two.

Quarterback Daunte Culpepper's evening was sharpe, hitting five of eight passes for 51 yards and a touchdown. But on the Vikings' opening drive — in fact, the opening play of the game — quarterback Daunte Culpepper missed Randy Moss open deep downfield, and his reception on third down came up 3 yards short.

On Jacksonville's opening drive, the Vikings defense showed signs of trouble from recent years. They yielded passes of 11 and 37 yards from Mark Brunell to Jimmy Smith, but once the Jaguars got it close to the end zone they self-destructed with false start penalties inside the 10-yard line before Danny Boyd missed a 29-yard field goal wide right.

With their second drive, the first-team offense of the Vikings responded, with the stars of the drive being the stars of the team. Moss picked up the initial first down on an 18-yard pass. While Doug Chapman and John Avery moved the chains for a fresh set of downs, Culpepper followed it up with a 19-yard scramble to the 13-yard line. On the next play, he found D'Wayne Bates on an out pattern in the end zone for a 7-0 lead with 2:47 left in the first half.

That would be the last drive for Culpepper and Moss, who were both instrumental in putting up the first points of the preseason. But while the Vikings were pulling their first-team offense before the end of the first quarter, the Jaguars were content to leave theirs in the game until almost halftime.

Instead of Jacksonville improving on offense, it only gave the Vikings defense a chance to get stronger with their working chemistry. Kenny Mixon started Jacksonville's drive with a 4-yard sack, and Fred Robbins followed with a 5-yard tackle-for-loss of running back Brandon Toefield.

With Gus Frerotte and Minnesota's second-team skill players in, the Vikings offense picked up two first downs before giving way to the defense again. This time it was Lance Johnstone picking up a 2-yard sack to welcome Jacksonville's first-team offense back to the field, and the team's traded three-and-out drives.

Brunell moved the Jaguars into field goal range again, with passes of 16 yards to fullback Marc Edwards and 14 yards to J.J. Stokes leading a nine-play drive. But since Boyd missed his opportunity, the Jaguars called on Seth Marler for a 29-yard field goal and he was true, making it 7-3 with 4:19 to play in the first half.

Frerotte led a strong answering drive with passes of 9 yards to Derrick Alexander and 11 to fullback James Lynch, but it was a pass interference penalty in the end zone by rookie cornerback Chris D. Brown on coverage of Kelly Campbell that gave the Vikings a golden opportunity to extend the lead. On second down, however, Larry Ned fumbled on a hit by Paul Spicer, and cornerback Ike Charlton brought it back 97 yards for a touchdown and a 13-7 Jacksonville lead with 52 seconds left in the half.

On their second possession of the second half, the Vikings were able regain the lead on an extended drive that saw 18 plays covering 69 yards behind second-half QB Shaun Hill. But instead of Hill, the Vikings used a heavy dose of fourth-round draft choice Onterrio Smith. The running back carried nine times, starting the drive with a 7-yard run on the 31-yard line and ending it with a 1-yard dive behind James Lynch for a touchdown and a 14-13 lead with 40 seconds left in the third quarter.

After another in a series of strong kick returns, Jacksonville started on the 37-yard line and, mainly behind a 17-yard pass to Jimmy Redmond, moved the ball into field goal position. Marler came on to hit a 43-yard field goal and give Jacksonville a 16-14 lead early in the fourth quarter.

The Vikings stumbled with third-teamers on offense, and a 20-yard punt from Nick Murphy gave the Jaguars ideal field position, which they almost took advantage of, but a 53-yard field goal attempt from James Tuthill went wide left. This miss and everything else after it wouldn't affect the score, as the Jaguars were able to hold off any hopes the Vikings had of a comeback because of a typically sloppy fourth quarter in the preseason.

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