The New York Giants entered their showdown with the Vikings with an offensive line in shambles. They were switching assignments and hoping to keep the damn plugged with a Band-Aid and a couple of late-round rookies. Considering that the Vikings only got one sack, that Band-Aid appeared to cover the wound just enough.
The Vikings offense showed spark only when it was Daunte Culpepper hooking up with Randy Moss. Culpepper had 241 yards passing, and 125 of those went to Moss, including both touchdowns. Otherwise, the running game generally struggled minus a few Culpepper scrambles and one 38-yard break-off run by Moe Williams.
It ended with two fourth-quarter touchdowns from New York and a 29-17 score that gave the Vikings their first loss of the season.
The defense opened by allowing big chunks of yards to running back Tiki Barber and Kerry Collins, who amassed 375 yards of passing. Meanwhile, Culpepper hit Moss for two touchdowns, but the QB also threw his first interception of the season at a critical time in the fourth quarter, leading to New York's final points and the final margin of the game.
The Vikings converted one third down on their opening drive, but after Onterrio Smith's 17-yard screen to open the drive and a 17-yard pass to Randy Moss the Vikings had gained enough yardage to come away with a 3-0 lead. Aaron Elling gave that to them with a 51-yard field goal.
The lead disappeared quickly, as Barber dominated the Vikings defense on the first drive. He got the first three touches for the New York offense, gaining 6 on a run, 5 on a pass and 13 on a run. Tight end Jeremy Shockey got involved early with a 16-yard reception to cross midfield to the 36-yard line, followed by a 17-yard run from Barber. That set up Amani Toomer to finish the 76-yard, six-play drive with a 19-yard touchdown reception after controlling the ball only 2 minutes, 53 seconds and having four straight gains of 15 or more yards.
A 26-yard pass to Moss was all the Vikings could do to move the chains on their second drive, giving New York another chance to pick at the Vikings defense. The Giants did it well again, with a 10-yard pass to Hilliard and gains of 9 and 12 by Barber enough to overcome a holding call and pick up the initial first down. Passes of 15 yards to Tim Carter and 11 yards to Ike Hilliard put the ball on the 34-yard line, and a 23-yard pass to Toomer moved it to the 11-yard line. But after starting the game 9-for-9 passing, Kerry Collins rolled to his right and refused to unload to a wide open Shockey. Instead, Collins threw across his momentum to the middle of the field and Corey Chavous stepped in front for the interception in the end zone.
The Vikings avoided a bullet on defense and finally put together a second-quarter drive on offense. Jim Kleinsasser and Williams picked up the initial first down, followed by a 16-yard reception from Nate Burleson. Culpepper scrambled for 12 yards for the chain-mover, but the drive fell apart from there. Head coach Mike Tice elected to go for the 54-yard field goal, but Elling hooked this one to keep it 7-3 Giants.
The Giants continued their confident march through the Minnesota defense with field position in their favor on their next drive. It began with a 21-yard pass to Barber and, one play later, kept moving forward with a 30-yard pass to Tim Carter. Those two plays were enough to set up the Giants on the 2-yard line, but a 1-yard run by Barber and two incompletions, the first ones since Collins' interception, left Brett Conway to convert a 20-yard field goal for a 10-3 New York lead with 3:31 to play.
Moss and Culpepper would tie it in a hurry. Starting from his own 21-yard line, Culpepper opened the drive with a 10-yard pass to Moss. After a 1-yard pass to Kleinsasser, Culpepper found Moss again, this time for 35 yards. They went right back to the superstar and, while rolling out to his right, Culpepper found Moss a step ahead of cornerback Kato Serwanga at the front pylon for a 33-yard touchdown with 1:53 to play in the half to tie the game 10-10.
New York responded with a field goal drive, as Collins completed six passes, four of them underneath coverage for fewer than 10 yards, and a 22-yard sideline pass to Toomer and a 12-yarder to Shockey. It got Conway in position for a 42-yard field goal with four seconds left and a 13-10 Giants lead at halftime.
The Giants repeated their fortunes to start the second half, as a 51-yard flea-flicker from Barber to Collins to Toomer netted 51 yards on the opening play of the half. The Vikings shut down the offense from there, but Conway was true from 37 yards for a 16-10 Giants lead.
After an exchange of punts, Minnesota had the decisive edge in field position after an 11-yard punt return put them on the New York 47-yard line. The Vikings moved it methodically to start with gains of 3, 6, 1 and 3 to move the chains before a 32-yard crossing route by Burleson put the ball on the 2-yard line. On second down, Moss got his second touchdown of the game on a 1-yard pass from Culpepper on a rollout. That gave the Vikings a 17-16 lead with 6:22 to play in the third quarter, a lead they took into the fourth quarter.
The defense — and special teams — came alive to start the fourth quarter. The defense forced three straight incompletions, and Jack Brewer, the special teams captain, got the first blocked punt for the Viking since 1989. However, after the block near the goal line, linebacker Wesley Mallard picked it up behind the line of scrimmage and rumbled the necessary 12 yards for a first down.
The defense came back on the field and, after giving up a 14-yard pass to Hilliard, came through with a Kevin Williams sack and two incompletions to force another punt. This time they didn't get the block, with the offense forced back to their 24-yard line to start a statement drive.
But the statement they made was that their offense was sporadic against the Giants defense. Moe Williams broke off a 38-yard run while slashing to the right sideline to start the drive. He followed that with a 10-yard run up the gut. However, back-to-back sacks from Michael Strahan quickly ended the drive.
The statement drive came from the Giants instead, and they did it behind the players that had been producing all afternoon. Barber picked up the opening first down, and Shockey followed with a 46-yard pass down the middle of the field that had 15 yards added to the end of the play when Chris Hovan hit Collins late. After a holding penalty on the Giants, Shockey put the ball at the 2-yard line with a 19-yard catch. Barber got the touchdown and the 22-17 New York lead (after the pass failed) with 5:29 to play.
On the next play from scrimmage, Culpepper threw his first interception of the season, and after Frank Walker returned it 26 yards, New York was set up on the 17-yard line. It took three plays to effectively ice the game, the third play a 14-yard paydirt pass to Hilliard with 3:39 to play, giving the Giants a 29-17 lead.
After picking up one first down with two passes to Keenan Howy, four straight incompletions from Culpepper put New York in position to pick up one first down and kneel down to run the clock inside 30 seconds. The game ended with a final interception of Culpepper on a Hail Mary, appropriate since this was a game of many firsts in the 2003 season. It was the first time the Vikings lost the turnover battle, the first time Culpepper threw an interception and the first time Brian Russell didn't get an interception.
It was also the first Vikings loss, the most important stat in a season that once looked charmed but now has its first blemish.
Giants Stomp On Streak
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