Fumble In The Black Hole

The Vikings had numerous chances to win in Oakland, but they turned the ball over six times in a 28-18 loss. Daunte Culpepper had his worst game of the season with three interceptions and two lost fumbles and was the main reason Minnesota couldn't beat a team on a losing streak of its own.

Minnesota miscues. Turnovers are the death of any team, even after a first half of the season that left the Vikings as one of the best in the league. But on their first five drives Sunday, they turned the ball over three times — and missed two field goals from inside 45 yards in the first half. It put them in a hole in the Black Hole.

The Vikings had nine turnovers entering Sunday's game, but after giving the ball to the Oakland Raiders six times, including three interceptions and two fumbles from Daunte Culpepper, the Vikings destroyed their chances at winning, eventually dropping a 28-18 decision in Oakland.

It was a game the Vikings were able to win late in the fourth quarter despite all the turnovers, but Culpepper continued to give it away with a fourth-quarter fumble and interception.

With a Green Bay win, the 6-4 Vikings hold only a one-game lead in the division and may be losing their confidence along with their four-game losing streak.

It started great for the Vikings — with a 44-yard kickoff return by Onterrio Smith — but quickly turned sour. On the second play from scrimmage, Culpepper threw for Jim Kleinsasser in the flats and didn't see cornerback Phillip Buchanon, who passed off his wide receiver in coverage and stayed in the flats. He intercepted it and returned it 64 yards for a 7-0 Raiders lead 49 seconds into the game.

It would prove to be the first of many turnovers in the game's first quarter.

The Vikings returned to the field and picked up one first down on a 42-yard screen pass to Moe Williams, but after three penalties the Vikings were facing third-and-21 from the 43-yard line. Culpepper hit Nate Burleson for 19 yards, but as the wide receiver struggled to reach a first down Buchanon forced a fumble and Rod Woodson recovered.

The Raiders had five straight runs of 5 or more yards, but on the fifth carry Brian Williams knocked the ball loose from Justin Fargas and Kevin Williams recovered.

Moe Williams led the Vikings down the field again, with runs of 4, 5 and 7 yards and a 22-yard catch-and-run on another screen pass. However, when the drive finally ended Aaron Elling missed a 39-yard field goal attempt to the right.

Once again it was a Williams involved in a big play on the Raiders' next drive. A 16-yard pass to tight end O.J. Santiago converted one first down, and a 22-yard pass to Tim Brown picked up another one. But on the play following Brown's reception Kevin Williams stripped Zack Crockett of the ball and Fred Robbins recovered.

The Vikings drove into Oakland territory on the assist from a pass interference call on Rod Woodson, covering Randy Moss. Moss picked up another first down on a 12-yard pass, and this time Elling converted the drive into three points with a 35-yard field goal with 11:24 left in the first half to make it 7-3 Oakland.

The defense stopped the Raiders at midfield, but on the first play from scrimmage they blitzed Culpepper hard and he fumbled on the 1-yard line. On the next play, Crockett had a 1-yard touchdown and a 14-3 lead with 8:22 to play in the half.

One possession later, the Vikings took over on their own 9-yard line and went with a no-huddle offense in the final three minutes of the half, but it was too casual of an effort. While Culpepper led the offense into Oakland territory, he ran out of time and the Vikings were forced to settle for a field goal attempt on second down with three seconds remaining. True to form for the afternoon, Elling hooked his 44-yard attempt to the left. Despite a poor first half of turnovers, the Vikings would have only trailed 14-9, but two missed field goals left them with a 14-3 deficit -- one that looked a little more desperate

It got even worse in the second half, as a defense that had done a decent job in the first half fell apart on the Raiders' first drive. It was a seven-play drive that hit the Vikings where they hurt the most lately -- stopping the run. The Raiders ran all seven plays, the long one a 44-yard run by Crockett, which got it inside the 10-yard line. Tyrone Wheatley did the rest, taking two carries to get it in the end zone for a 21-3 Oakland lead.

The offense continued to move the ball but stayed with the theme of the afternoon -- turnovers. D'Wayne Bates picked up the initial first down with an 18-yard catch, and Kleinsasser converted a third down with an 11-yard reception. Bennett followed with a 19-yard catch on a flip from a pressured Culpepper, but a third-down sack and ensuing fumble (recovered by David Dixon) backed up the offense. Mike Tice opted to go for the first down because the offense was in the dead zone at the Oakland 40-yard line. On fourth-and-20, Culpepper went to the end zone for Burleson, but Culpepper was forced to scramble and threw across his body and came up short on the bomb. Buchanon intercepted in the end zone, so it was about the same as a punt.

When Kevin Williams got another sack on third down on the Raiders' next drive, it set up Minnesota's first touchdown drive of the game. It happened quickly. On third-and-3, a well-designed fake reverse to Moss left Bennett wide open down the right sideline for a 40-yard gain that had 15 yards added to it when Tyler Brayton was flagged for a late hit on Culpepper. With the ball at the 11-yard line, Culpepper put in it the end zone on a quarterback draw. The Vikings were back in the game at 21-10 with 2:12 left in the third quarter.

The Raiders responded with a nine-play drive highlighted by a 20-yard pass to Doug Jolley and a 20-yarder to Jerry Rice -- his first reception of the game -- but the drive stalled when Brian Williams dropped Rick Mirer for a 3-yard sack on third-and-1. And when Sebastian Janikowski pushed his 52-yard field goal attempt wide left it gave the Vikings an opening.

Culpepper connected with Kelly Campbell for 27 yards, but two plays later, on second-and-1, Culpepper lost his footing -- and the football again. The Raiders recovered and the Vikings' hopes were slowly diminishing with less than 11 minutes to play.

After a 35-yard pass to Santiago, the defense stiffened and forced an Oakland punt.

This time Campbell's catches counted for something. On the first play of the Minnesota drive, Culpepper hit Campbell for 52 yards. On the next play, Campbell found an opening for a 29-yard touchdown pass with 8:32 to play. After a pass to Hunter Goodwin for the two-point conversion, the Vikings trailed only 21-18.

The Raiders responded with a long drive, with passes of 18 and 31 yards to Jerry Porter and an 11-yard run by Wheatley. Inexplicably, after nine plays and facing fourth-and-2 on the 3-yard line with a three-point lead with three minutes to go, Bill Callahan decided to go for the touchdown. Mirer hit a wide open Tim Brown in the hands, but Brown dropped the pass.

On the next possession, Culpepper threw two incompletions before finding Rod Woodson for an interception.

When Oakland got the ball to the 2-yard line and was facing fourth-and-1, Callahan called for the field goal unit. But after challenging the spot from the previous play and being denied a first down, he changed his mind and went for the touchdown again. This time Crockett rewarded his outside-the-box decision with a 2-yard touchdown dive and a 28-18 lead with 2:16 to play.

The Vikings picked up two first downs, but three consecutive incompletions ended the inopportunistic Vikings' madness. They gave the game away with each fumble and with each interception, and finally found themselves with a four-game losing streak and only a one-game lead on the Green Bay Packers.

If they continue to play sloppy, the Vikings won't have to worry about a division race. If they can cure the turnovers -- and the psyche of the players -- they can win, but this will be the test of Mike Tice's ability to lead.

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