Interceptions Lead To 24-14 Win

Brian Williams tied a team record with three interceptions, but a fourth one from Corey Chavous was needed to overcome a poor offensive showing and keep the Vikings from dropping an NFC North game in the Metrodome.

No wonder this wasn't the national game of the week. Instead, it looked a lot like a game of the weak.

The Vikings nearly ended the Lions' 21-game road losing streak, but the defense propelled them to a 24-14 lead with two interception returns for touchdowns in the final three minutes.

Brian Williams intercepted Lions QB Joey Harrington three times, and the run defense held Detroit in check. But it would take another interception, this one from Corey Chavous, with 2:26 left in the game to seal a win in a game that was much closer than it ever should have been.

Part of the problem on offense was Daunte Culpepper. It wasn't that the maligned quarterback didn't try to go deep for Randy Moss, he just couldn't find him open. Twice Moss was forced to play defensive back to avoid allowing the interception, and another time the Lions came away with the interception in the end zone. Culpepper's worst stretch came in the second quarter, when he had a zero passer rating on 1 of 4 passing and that interception.

The offense also endured a stretch during the third and fourth quarters when it gave up a touchdown off a fumble recovery and punted on four consecutive possessions.

It would take a 15-play, 73-yard drive in the fourth quarter to finally pull ahead 10-7 with 2:45 left on a 24-yard Aaron Elling field goal before the wheels on the Motor City's car came loose.

Following that field goal, Harrington threw interceptions to Chavous and Williams, both returned for touchdowns in the game's final three minutes to seal the 24-14 win. Williams became the first Viking to have three interceptions in a game since Jack Del Rio did it on Dec. 5, 1993 … against Detroit.

The Vikings came into the game thinking misdirection plays heavily. Culpepper picked up 17 yards on first down with a fake handoff to starter Michael Bennett and the subsequent rollout. But a pitch to Bennett lost 5 yards, a reverse to Kelly Campbell lost 7 yards and an outlet pass to Kleinsasser got only 10 of the needed 17 yards back, forcing a punt on the opening drive.

But just as the Lions defense came prepared on the opening drive, so did the Vikings. Three plays for Detroit garnered only 2 yards, and the Vikings were back in possession.

The first downs came easy to start the drive, with an 11-yard pass to Nate Burleson and a quick straight-ahead run by Bennett for 13 yards. But after crossing midfield, the Vikings were faced with a choice at fourth-and-7 at the Lions 35. A 52-yard field goal seemed like a risky prospect, and punting might only net 15 yards of field position with a touchback. Head coach Mike Tice opted to use his superstar, Randy Moss, who picked up 10 yards with a crossing route. The Vikings returned to the running game on first down, and Bennett rewarded them. Jim Kleinsasser sealed the outside and Moss pushed his cornerback out of the play. Bennett went in between them and outsprinted the pursuit to the pylon for a 25-yard touchdown.

The defense allowed the Lions to midfield by giving Az-Zahir Hakim a 4-yard out on third-and-3 and Mikhael Ricks an 11-yard flag on third-and-8. But on the third third-down of the drive, Brian Williams stepped in front of a Joey Harrington pass for the interception and return.

Culpepper went for Moss on the first play of the Vikings' next drive and was rewarded with a 27-yard pickup. But when Moss spiked the ball out of bounds, it bounced up and hit the Detroit defender, drawing a 15-yard penalty. Three plays later, Tice went for it again on fourth-and-4 at the 42-yard line. Moss took coverage with him on the right sideline and Williams exploited the flat for a 6-yard pickup and a first down. One play later, Moss was flagged for offensive pass interference in the end zone, saving a would-be interception, but the Vikings were forced to punt after that.

The defense gave up one first down, but clamped down after that, forcing two incompletions into tight coverage.

With more than 10 minutes to play in the first half, the Vikings needed to capitalize on a strong defensive performance with a sustained offensive drive to open up on their 7-0 lead. It started with two plays to Bennett and a 10-yard pass to Williams reminiscent of their fourth-down pickup in the first quarter, but the drive stalled there.

The defense continued to stop the Lions, and the Vikings running backs continued to get it done. Bennett picked up 9 yards on two carries and Williams converted another third down with a 10-yard reception. Two more handoffs to Bennett picked up 17 yards, but on first-and-10 from the Detroit 45-yard line Culpepper threw for Moss in the end zone. Safety Brian Walker ran into Moss and intercepted the pass. No pass interference was called, and the Lions started from their 35-yard line.

Penalties on the Vikings combined with a 27-yard pass to Bill Schroeder and a 26-yard scramble by Harrington to put the Lions on the Minnesota 21-yard line with a first down. After a run for no gain, Brian Williams picked off his second pass of the game to keep the Vikings on top 7-0 with just over three minutes to play.

The Vikings didn't take much time off the clock with two incompletions and the Lions threatened again. Passes of 17 and 10 yards to Hakim moved the Lions to the 5-yard line, but they showed why they have a losing record when they pushed back out to the 25-yard line on penalties (including a delay of game after a time out before attempting a field goal). That last penalty cost Detroit when Jason Hanson missed from 43 yards out to end the half.

The defense did its job again, as it stopped the Lions in three downs, and the Vikings could have delivered a game-breaking play on the punt. Keenan Howry fielded it, stuttered and found a wall down the right sideline. He had only punter Nick Harris to beat, but when Kelly Campbell missed his block on Harris, Howry was caught at the 34-yard line.

On first down, Culpepper went deep for Moss, who was knocked down again before the ball arrived, but the ruling on the field was that Culpepper was out of the pocket and Moss was hit before the ball was in the air. Moss picked up 14 yards on the next play, but on the third play of the drive Moe Williams was stripped of the ball before his knee touched down. Dré Bly returned the ball 29 yards before lateraling it to Harris for the final 35 yards. That quickly, the game was tied at 7-7 with 12:11 to play in the third quarter.

The teams traded punts five punts as the third quarter wore midway into the fourth quarter.

With more than 11 minutes remaining and pockets of the crowd calling for Gus Frerotte, Culpepper started the Vikings on their own 21-yard line. The drive began with a 15-yard pass, then a 5-yard run by Williams. Campbell converted the third down with a 10-yard reception, and Culpepper picked up the next first down with a 3-yard option run on third-and-1. Williams put the ball on the 25-yard line with a 12-yard catch-and-run, but a holding penalty limited their forward progress.

Facing first-and-20 on the 35-yard line, Culpepper scrambled for 5 yards and Campbell got them in the a manageable third-and-5 with another 10-yard catch.

The Vikings went with had worked so well all game, a screen to Williams — and he nearly hit paydirt. He picked up a pair of blockers out in front on the right sideline and got to the 1-yard line. But a false start and ineligible-man-downfield penalties, both on Chris Liwienski, back the Vikings up to the 11-yard line. After three plays that netted 5 yards the Vikings called on Elling for a 24-yard field goal. He was true to cap the 8-minute, 49-second drive for a 10-7 lead with 2:45 to play.

The urgency of the situation proved too much for Harrington. After two incompletions, he threw a pass across the middle that was intercepted by Chavous and returned for a 32-yard touchdown and a 17-7 lead with 2:26 to play.

On the next play from scrimmage, Brian Williams jumped in front of a stop route for an interception and a 42-yard return for a touchdown and a 24-7 lead with 2:06 to play.

The Lions picked up their first offensive touchdown of the day on the heels of a strong return and passes of 13 and 14 yards to Ricks, 14 and 5 yards to Hakim, the final one for the touchdown with 35 seconds to play.

The Vikings escaped another embarrassing loss in the final three minutes and will be forced to play a far better offense next week in St. Louis. If Minnesota's offense continues to sputter, they can hardly rely on four interceptions against a contending Rams team.

Still, Tice was going to enjoy the win despite going against an inferior opponent, but he said winning would help cure some of the problems. It had better.

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