Grading The Game: Broncos

The Vikings beat a very good team Sunday, but they did it with only average grades in two areas of their game that were thought to be strong suits. Maybe that's a sign of a much more well-rounded team.

PASSING OFFENSE: A — Quarterback Daunte Culpepper didn't run the ball, but he moved around beautifully behind the line of scrimmage in his first game since fracturing bones in his lower back on Sept. 21. The Vikings' first touchdown, a 47-yarder to Kelly Campbell, came after Denver took away a screen pass to Randy Moss. Culpepper scrambled to his right and found Campbell deep downfield. Culpepper's other touchdown pass will go down as the play of the year in the NFL. Facing third-and-24 at the Vikings' 41 and time running out in the first half, Culpepper scrambled and found Moss at about the Denver 11. As Moss was being dragged to the ground near the 14-yard line, he flipped a no-look, over-the shoulder lateral to running back Moe Williams, who took the ball the final 15 yards for a score as time ran out. That gave the Vikings a 14-7 lead and the momentum. It's a play Moss goofs around with in practice on Saturday's. Coach Mike Tice cringes when Moss does it because cornerback Denard Walker always picks it off. But even Tice now says, "I guess I'll let them keep doing it." Culpepper, who threw 23 interceptions last season, still hasn't thrown one this season.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C-minus — The Vikings ran for a season-low 72 yards on 22 carries (3.3). They entered the game averaging 150.2 yards per game, fourth-best in the NFL. Granted, Denver had the best defense the Vikings have played this season. But the Vikings have a good enough and big enough offensive line to run the ball even when the numbers in the box aren't in their favor. They proved that with one good series running the ball. They opened the second half with a 10-play, 71-yard touchdown drive. They ran six times for 36 yards (6.2). But on their other 10 possessions, they averaged 2.2 yards per carry. The lack of a running game almost cost the Vikings the game in the fourth quarter. With third-string QB Danny Kanell leading the Broncos back in the fourth quarter, the Vikings mustered only one first down, and that was a 39-yard pass to Moss. The running game had zero yards on three carries before a final-play kneel-down made it minus-1 yards in the period.

PASS DEFENSE: A — Retirement never looked so good for aging Broncos quarterback Steve Beuerlein than after Sunday's game. He was sacked five times, knocked down five times and intercepted three times. He finally had to leave the game in the second half when rookie Kevin Williams knocked him down so hard he dislocated the pinkie finger on his throwing hand trying to break his fall. The Vikings' 16 interceptions lead the NFL and are a team record through six games. Free safety Brian Russell has six picks and tied Hall of Famer Paul Krause's team record of six consecutive games with an interception. Oh yeah, we almost forgot. Defensive end Lance Johnstone had 1 1/2 sacks, recovered a fumble, returned an interception 33 yards for a touchdown and deflected the Broncos' last-ditch pass attempt on third-and-10 from the Vikings' 30.

RUSH DEFENSE: C — Had the Broncos been patient enough to stick with the run, they might have won the game. If Clinton Portis isn't the fastest running back in the NFL, he's at least a bronze medallist. Portis became the first Vikings opponent to rush for 100 yards, gaining 117 and a touchdown on 25 carries (4.7). The Broncos averaged 5.1 yards a carry, compiling 138 on 27 carries. It could have been more, but for some reason the Broncos wanted to take too many deep drops, risking Beuerlein's life in the process. The Vikings did make two key stops against the run. Backup safety Willie Offord, in his third play of the game after Corey Chavous was injured, made an open field tackle on Portis late in the game. Had Offord not made the tackle, Portis would have scored and the Broncos could have tied the game with a two-point conversion. Kevin Williams also stuffed Portis for no gain on a strange third-and-10 call with time running out and the Broncos out of timeouts.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C — Again, nothing special, but nothing disastrous. Denver broke two 30-yard gains, which isn't good, but probably would have been touchdowns last season. Punter Eddie Johnson continues to underachieve. He averaged only 39 yards on six punts. Kick returner John Avery had a 31-yarder, but a fumble, which the Vikings recovered, won't do anything to keep the Vikings from taking a long look at Nick Davis once he's eligible to come off the physically-unable-to-perform list.

COACHING: B — George O'Leary's defense was spectacular against the pass, but showed some holes against the run. O'Leary saw an old QB who doesn't move well, if at all, and went after him successfully. Offensively, the Vikings couldn't run the ball. They couldn't counter Denver's moves up front quick enough to put together a consistent rushing attack. But, overall, Tice and his staff deserve credit for keeping the team focused and loose. By now, everyone has seen the clip of Tice running out to practice Friday wearing his old Vikings uniform. The players really are connected to their head coach. The 6-0 start sure doesn't hurt their relationship or Tice's credibility when he puts the players through practices last week that were as intense as training camp.

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