Ever feel like nothing is going right? The Vikings certainly know the feeling.
Daunte Culpepper was sacked six times, fumbled twice, one which was returned for a touchdown, Cris Carter fumbled as he was running to the end zone for a touchdown, Michael Bennett found almost no running room and New Orleans unequivocally dominated the battle of field position as the Saints ran their way to a 28-15 win and dropped the Vikings to 1-3 for the first time since 1990.
The frustration on offense would only mount. On Minnesota's defense, New Orleans running back Ricky Williams rushed 31 times for 137 yards and a touchdown, but even with those yards and 28 points, the defense didn't do as bad a job as those numbers would indicate. Instead, the offense had trouble moving the ball, which gave the Saints great field position early and often.
Four out of the six Saints possessions in the first half New Orleans started with the ball at no worse than their own 40-yard line. During that first half the Saints built a 15-7 lead with four scoring drives.
Despite being badly outplayed, especially in the running game, in the first quarter the Vikings came away with a 7-6 lead thanks to three straight drives that ended after three plays each but one drive that brought back the big play. The Vikings gave heavy field position in the first quarter, not crossing midfield until less than a minute remained but giving the Saints the ball near midfield on their first three drives.
Minnesota's defense kept them in the game, holding the Saints to two field goals from John Carney and a punt on those first three drives of New Orleans until Culpepper and the Vikings could make some progress on offense.
Despite starting on their own 20-yard line, the Vikings covered 80 yards in only four plays. It started with a 7-yard pass to Michael Bennett, a 20-yard pass to Jake Reed and a 29-yard pass to Byron Chamberlain to quickly get to the 29-yard line. From there, Randy Moss found his first opening of the game and Culpepper found him in stride at the end zone line in the middle of the field to put Minnesota ahead 7-6 with 19 second left in the first quarter.
It wouldn't last long, however, as the Saints put together a 76-yard drive in which they converted four third downs and featured a heavy dose of Ricky Williams. He touched the ball eight times during the 15-play drive and eventually scored New Orleans' first touchdown on a 1-yard dive to reassume the lead at 12-7 (a Deuce McAllister run failed on the two-point attempt) with 7:50 left in the first half.
But field position and special teams would hurt the Vikings another time. After failing to pick up a first down, the Saints took over on Minnesota's 46-yard line following another strong punt return nearly broken for a touchdown. The Saints moved to the 28-yard line behind Williams, but were forced to settle for a 45-yard field goal from Carney and a 15-7 lead with 4:29 remaining in the first half.
That set up a wild ending to the first half and one of multiple missed opportunities for the Vikings. After moving the ball to his own 45-yard line, Culpepper launched a bomb for Cris Carter, who hauled it in over the middle and sprinted for the end zone. But before Carter reached the goal line, Kevin Mathis swatted the ball loose at the 4-yard line and safety Sammy Knight recovered in the back of the end zone for a touchback.
The second missed chance came on the next play, when Saints receiver Robert Wilson came down with the ball on a crossing route and coughed it up. While the ruling on the field was a fumble that cornerback Kenny Wright recovered, the play was overturned despite what appeared to be questionable visual evidence. The Saints kept the ball and drove from their own 20-yard line to the Vikings' 21 before Eric Kelly, starting for an injured Robert Tate, intercepted his second pass in as many games to end any more first-half threats and keep the score 15-7.
The second half started with much of the same — a New Orleans attack that featurred Williams and a key questionable call, this one against Kelly, who was flagged for a 42-yard pass interference penalty called by the official 20 yards behind the play instead of the one 3 yards to the side of it. That put New Orleans on the 9-yard line, but, after getting to the 2-yard line, a late hit by center Jerry Fontenot backed up the Saints and forced them to settle for the fourth field from Carney and an 18-7 lead.
Then it was the defense's turn for New Orleans. After the Vikings drove to mdifield, Culpepper scrambled to buy time and fumbled as he was pulled down by Darren Howard. Minnesota offensive lineman Brad Badger had a chance at the ball, but when it squirted out of his grasp, Saint Chris Oldham grabbed the ball on the run and returned it for a touchdown and a 25-7 lead.
The Vikings, feeling desperate, were able to drive 80 yards with 16-yard passes to Byron Chamberlain and Jim Kleinsasser, and a 10-yarder to Moss. Chamberlain found the end zone on a blown coverage and brought the Vikings to within two scores at 25-15 with 14 seconds left in the third quarter.
However, the Saints probably sealed the win with their next drive. Not only did they open up a 13-point lead with a 33-yard field goal from Carney, his fifth of the game, but they took nearly seven minutes off the clock with their nine-play drive.
All the Vikings offense could do was flounder even more, giving up their sixth sack of the game and a holding penalty another time before punting back to the Saints with 7:31 left. While the defense stopped the Saints, the Vikings offense was stopped as well, picking up three first downs, but eventually turning the ball over on downs and essentially ending any hopes of a comeback.
The Vikings dropped the ball, the Saints dropped Culpepper six times for sacks and Minnesota dropped to 1-3 for the first time in Dennis Green's tenure as head coach. It's a hole Minnesota can definitely pull out of, but they will need to improve dramatically with their consistency on offense to do it.
Saints School Vikings, 28-15
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