The Vikings of 2001 have the look of an emergency room trauma unit. Through four games, the team has found more ways to shoot itself in the foot than many thought imaginable.
After looking to right the ship last week against Tampa Bay, the Vikings reverted to the ways that got them off to an 0-2 start, committing turnovers and losing 28-15 to New Orleans, yet another loss against an NFC opponent.
"There were some of the fundamental things that we didn't get accomplished," said Vikings coach Dennis Green. "We didn't take advantage of scoring opportunities. We didn't stop the run, which you have to do in the game in this day and age. We didn't get pressure on the quarterback, which is also difficult. We didn't make the turnovers when we had a chance."
The Vikings knew the Saints were bringing an oppressive defense and they got more than they wanted. The Saints got two sacks on Daunte Culpepper on the first three plays of the game and got themselves in great early field position. While the Vikings defense stood tall, all it took was passes of 9 yards to Willie Jackson and Albert Connell to get the Saints in scoring range for John Carney to hit a 50-yard field goal and give the Saints an early 3-0 lead.
After the Vikings went three-and out on their second drive, the Saints struck again. The team converted a pair of third downs on a 3-yard run by Ricky Williams and a 38-yard pass to Jackson on a third-and-10 to get the ball to the 3-yard line. The Vikings defense again stiffened in the red zone to stop the drive, but Carney delivered another field goal — a 23-yard chip shot — and the Saints had a 6-0 lead with 4:56 to play in the first quarter.
New Orleans had a chance for an early knockout as, on the Vikings' third drive of the game, Culpepper appeared to try to throw a pass away and instead had it intercepted by Jay Bellamy at midfield. The Vikings defense needed to keep the team in the game and it did — stopping the Saints on three plays by forcing Brooks to throw two incompletions and punt the ball to the Vikings.
As the first quarter wound down, suddenly the Vikings made moving on the Saints defense look easy. Culpepper completed four straight passes to move the Vikings 85 yards and take the lead. First was a 7-yard pass to Michael Bennett, followed by a 20-yard pass to Jake Reed. After a 29-yarder over the middle to a wide open Byron Chamberlain, Culpepper found Randy Moss in single coverage and delivered a 29-yard strike for a touchdown and, despite being dominated for most of the quarter, the Vikings held a 7-6 lead.
As the game moved into the second quarter, the Saints mounted their first sustained drive of the game. Starting from the 26, Brooks converted a third-and10 with a 10-yard pass to Jackson. After a 9-yard pass to Williams and a 12-yard run by Brooks, he converted another pair of third downs — one on a 2-yard sneak and the next on a 4-yard run by Williams to the 1-yard line. From there, Williams capped the 15-play drive with a dive over the middle to give the Saints a 12-7 lead. For some reason, the Saints went for a 2-point conversion early and Deuce McAllister was slammed down on a sweep to keep the score 12-7 with 7:50 to play in the half.
The Vikings offense reverted to its early form by failing to pick up a first down and allowing the Saints to open up shop in Minnesota territory. While the Saints only got one first down on a 13-yard run by Williams, it was enough, as Carney nailed a 45-yard field goal to put the Saints up 15-7 with 4:29 to play in the half.
Once again the Vikings looked to be back in the game on the next drive — until another costly turnover changed the complexion of the game. Culpepper completed a pass of 8 yards to Cris Carter and, after Kevin Mathis was penalized for a hands-to-the-face penalty on Carter, Culpepper and Carter hooked up again, this time for an apparent touchdown. Carter caught a pass in stride and was heading for the end zone when Mathis hit the ball loose on the 2-yard line and the Saints recovered in the end zone for a touchback.
New Orleans looked to be heading in for another score after a Hail Mary-type bomb to Joe Horn, but an interception by Eric Kelly sent the teams to the locker room with the Saints leading 15-7 and leaving the Vikings shell shocked once again.
New Orleans got the ball to start the second half and set the tone. With the lead, they were content to mix the run and pass. After three runs by Williams and a 9-yard pass to Jackson, a questionable pass interference call on Kelly covered 42 yards and put the ball on the 9-yard line. A personal foul on Jerry Fontenot backed the Saints up, but the damage was done, as Carney hit a 29-yard field goal to give the Saints an 18-7 lead.
The desperation for the Vikings was apparent, as a kick return to the 40 was called back on a holding penalty and, with the Vikings at midfield after a 16-yard pass to Jim Kleinsasser, a 22-yard pass to Jake Reed was called back on a holding penalty. With Culpepper trying to make a big play, he was hit from behind by LaRoi Glover, fumbled and the ball was scooped up by Chris Oldham, who raced untouched 38 yards to ice the game with 5:38 to play in the third as the Saints led 25-7.
The Vikings refused to give up with Culpepper coming out throwing. He spread the ball around to move up the field, hitting Doug Chapman for 13 yards, Harold Morrow for 10 yards, Reed for 17 and Kleinsasser for 16 to get inside the Saints 29-yard line. After a 10-yard pass to Moss, a broken coverage left Chamberlain wide open and Culpepper delivered a perfect pass for a 19-yard touchdown. As the game went to the fourth quarter, the Vikings trailed 25-15 following a Culpepper run for the 2-point conversion.
The Saints weren't content to lay on the ball at crunch time, as Brooks opened the drive with a 22-yard pass to Jackson. But the tiring Vikings defense felt the wrath of Williams, who took consecutive carries for 17, 8, 14 and 11 yards to move the ball all the way down to the Vikings 23-yard line. Another Saints penalty — a crackback block on Jackson — stopped the drive, but Williams had done enough damage. Carney came on for his fifth field goal, this from 33 yards, to give the Saints a 28-15 lead with 8:37 to play.
The teams exchanged punts, as the Vikings went for passes and the Saints did the Vikings a favor by stopping the clock with a pair of incompletions, but with just 6:29 to play, the Vikings' hopes were fading fast.
Pinned on his own 6-yard line, Culpepper did his best to get the Vikings moving. He completed a 21-yard pass to Carter and, after a pair of 7-yard passes to Kleinsasser and Chris Walsh, Culpepper completed a 21-yard clear-out pass to Harold Morrow to get the ball to the 35-yard line. From there, the Vikings would implode. An intentional grounding penalty on Culpepper combined with a delay of game to take the team into a fourth-and-16 situation — and when Culpepper's pass sailed harmlessly to the ground, the Saints had the ball with 3:43 to play.
Any chance of a Vikings comeback died when Brooks completed a clutch third-and-13 pass to Robert Wilson for 18 yards. After Williams ran three times, the Vikings got the ball back on a punt, but with just 19 seconds left in the game the Vikings opted to simply run out the clock and let the score stand at 28-5.
The loss drops the Vikings to 1-3 on the season and once again facing a can't-lose situation when they return home next week to face the Lions. While the Saints looked good defensively, it seemed as though the Vikings did more damage to themselves than the Saints did and once again left the team with the feeling that the loss was more a matter of letting the game get away than it was having the game taken from them.
"It was a team effort," Moss said. "The team effort today was very poor from all three angles — offense, defense, special teams."
The Vikings are still in the running, but, until they can minimize the mistakes that killed them Sunday, until they prove it on the field, there may be little reason to believe that the situation can be turned around in a hurry. VU
Mistakes Prove Costly in Loss
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