What's wrong with the Vikings defense? Just about everything right now. They aren't pressuring, reading, covering or tackling consistently. The understatement: That's a losing combination, and that's exactly what the Vikings are doing right now.
San Diego quarterback Doug Flutie is old. The Vikings defense is looking older, and it's getting old for fans watching it getting sliced through by average offenses. Flutie tore through the Minnesota defense with passes to David Boston, handoffs to LaDainian Tomlinson and penalties on the Vikings defense.
There were signs the defense was falling apart in earlier games, but they hadn't been this pathetic since being kicked around at Seattle last year. Sunday, it was a 41-year-old quarterback that found his fountain of youth in his first start of the season with a 42-28 win over the Vikings.
Daunte Culpepper passed for 370 yards and four touchdowns, but the defense yielded 248 yards to Flutie and 162 rushing yards to LaDainian Tomlinson.
The Vikings' big move to combat the open running lanes that had been widening over the past few weeks was to insert Ken Irvin as the starting cornerback to help in run support. Instead, Irvin became the targeted cornerback in the passing game in the Chargers' opening drive. It started with an 8-yard pass to David Boston, and when Kenny Mixon couldn't turn a reverse back inside on the second play Tim Dwight picked up 18 yards. One play later, Flutie found Boston, who had a step on Irvin, for 21 yards to the 7-yard line. After Flutie scrambled for 4 yards, another scramble bought time before he found Boston in the back of the end zone (working on Henri Crockett) for a 7-0 Chargers lead.
After a 44-yard kick return from Keenan Howry, the Vikings squandered the opportunity of starting in San Diego territory when Bryant McKinnie was flagged for holding on first down to nullify a 20-yard reception to Moss. After the punt, the Chargers rolled again.
They started with another reverse to Dwight for 8 yards and came back to him in the air for a first down on a 6-yard pass. On the fifth play of the drive, Tomlinson hit the corner between Mixon and Irvin, beat Corey Chavous on the angle to the left sideline and outran Brian Williams on a career-long 73-yard touchdown run for a 14-0 Chargers lead.
It looked like disaster was on the horizon, like a road game they had encountered so often the past two years. Instead, the Vikings responded with a convincing drive. Moss and Moe Williams combined for the initial first down with a 9-yard reception and 12-yard run. The running room continued to be there, as Williams took carries for 12, 9 and 9 yards during the drive, mixed with passes of 13 and 15 yards to Jim Kleinsasser, whom the coaching staff said they would get more involved in the passing game the rest of the season. And sitting with first-and-goal on the 4-yard line, Daunte Culpepper found Moss for a 4-yard touchdown with 2:09 left in the first quarter.
But while the Vikings offense found a rhythm, the defense continued to be baffled by Flutie and the Chargers. They continued to work the edge and use misdirection to take defenders away from the eventual ball carrier. Tomlinson started the drive with a misdirection screen for 23 yards into Vikings territory. From there, only four plays did not work. Flutie completed consecutive passes of 6, 7 and 7 yards before Chris Hovan knocked down a ball at the line of scrimmage. But Flutie returned to his groove with completions of 17 to Boston and 10 to Dwight. Instead of throwing for the touchdown, the 41-year-old QB slipped a tackle attempt by Lance Johnstone and juked Kevin Williams for a 3-yard touchdown run and a 21-7 lead.
It officially turned to an offensive shootout when the Vikings returned the favor, making it five touchdown drives in a row in the game. They drove 83 yards despite two holding calls and a false start by grinding it out, with Culpepper only missing one pass attempt. Williams, Kleinsasser and Bennett were involved in the drive, and Bennett was the only one to pick up more than 10 yards with a 12-yard run and a 17-yard screen pass. The big plays came on a 19-yard pass to Moss on third down and a 19-yard pass to Nate Burleson on third down in the face of the blitz for a touchdown with 4:42 left to play in the first half.
The Vikings needed some sort of a stop against the suddenly unstoppable Chargers offense led by Flutie. They had every opportunity to do it. On the third play of the drive, a third down, Denard Walker was called for pass interference while defending Boston on an incomplete pass. Three plays later, Boston caught a 9-yard pass after needing 7 yards to convert. Three plays later, on the final third down of the drive, Brian Williams was flagged for defensive holding when he took on Dwight and the receiver tripped over Williams while trying to get by. Three third downs, three failures — and the Chargers needed only three more plays to score their fourth touchdown of the game in as many drives. A 3-yard run by Tomlinson was surrounded by passes of 25 and 4 yards to rookie tight end Antonio Gates, the second going for a touchdown and 28-14 lead with 25 second left in the first half.
The Vikings offense looked fine, but the defense was simply terrible. It allowed Flutie to go 15-for-21 for 158 yards and two touchdowns. Culpepper was even better, going 14-for-17 for 160 yards and two touchdowns, It had to get better in the second half or Minnesota would take on its third straight loss.
The offense took the opening kick and looked poised to bring them within one touchdown when Moss caught two passes for 36 yards and two first downs, and Culpepper scrambled for another first down. But on second-and-1 from the 19-yard line, Bennett picked up the first down but fumbled when during the hit by Jerry WIlson. The Chargers recovered at the 4-yard line and the disastrous defensive showing showed no signs of ending early. On the first play from scrimmage, Tomlinson ripped off a 55-yard run. But the next three plays netted minus-1 yard on an incompletion, a run and a sack by Chris Hovan and Mixon. For the first time in the afternoon, the Chargers punted.
The Vikings picked up one first down but couldn't take advantage of the defense's first stop. They should have, because the defense wouldn't last much longer. On San Diego's next drive, they abused the Vikings again. Passes of 12 yards to Reche Caldwell and 10 yards to Boston were followed by another pass interference call on Walker, putting the ball on the 14-yard line. After Tomlinson, Tomlinson and more Tomlinson, the Chargers had their fifth touchdown and a 35-14 lead.
Culpepper responded with a quick scoring drive after a kick return by Onterrio Smith and a facemask penalty set up the Vikings on their own 48-yard line. Culpepper started with a 12-yard pass to D'Wayne Bates and a 5-yarder to Moss. After the QB draw gained 4 yards, the Vikings were facing third-and-1 at the 31-yard line. Culpepper wanted to air it out long, but he settled for an outlet pass to Williams, who broke four tackles and took it to the end zone to pull within 14 points with 14:48 left to play.
The defense forced the Chargers off the field after three plays for the second time in the half, and the offense had to score to have a chance. They didn't, as an 11-yard sack by Raylee Johnson on second down kept the Vikings short of the first down after a 13-yard pass to Moss. With 11:07 left and facing fourth-and-1, head coach Mike Tice called for the punting unit, and the Chargers needed only five plays to go 73 yards for a three-touchdown lead.
Gates beat Bierket on second down for a 26-yard gain; then Dwight beat Walker for 32 yards. After a 3-yard run by Tomlinson, Flutie took the second-down snap, fumbled it and ran straight ahead for a 13-yard touchdown and an incredible 42-21 lead with 8:11 to play.
The Vikings answered with a touchdown drive, but they needed 10 plays — each one of them taking precious time off the clock. Moss was a big part of the drive, as he was all day long. He started with receptions of 12 and 6 yards, and Kleinsasser converted a fourth-and-17 play with an 18-yard catch-and-run. Gains of 6, 8 and 9 yards by Campbell, Culpepper and Williams put the ball on the 11-yard line. Cornerback Quentin Jammer pushed off on Moss at the 2-yard line and, two plays later, Williams had a 2-yard touchdown catch with 4:20 left.
When Willie Offord recovered the onside kick, the Vikings still had life. Williams got them inside the red zone with two receptions and a personal foul on the Chargers, but when Culpepper tried to thread a pass across the middle of the end zone Terrance Kiel intercepted it to end all chances for a Minnesota comeback.
It was the third straight Vikings loss, and the worst one at that. They gave up 28 first-half points and were never able to fully recover. The defense was as porous as ever, and penalties put both the offense and defense in a bind.
Now the whole team is in a bind, with a Green Bay win tomorrow night against the Eagles able to pull them within one game of the division lead. The Vikings can thank their lackluster defense for that.
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