PASSING OFFENSE: C -- The game plan against the Lions called for the Vikings to throw the ball deep to Randy Moss. Even after Moss sprained his chronically-weak right ankle, the Vikings kept throwing deep. The Vikings won 24-14, but quarterback Daunte Culpepper couldn't connect with Moss on five deep balls, and the offense generated only 10 points and a season-low 307 yards. Culpepper, who threw for only 196 yards on 20-for-30 passing, was late and/or off target in delivering the ball. He was sacked three times, intercepted once and didn't throw a touchdown pass. The Vikings' best pass play was a screen to Moe Williams that the Lions defended well only one time. Williams caught six passes for 56 yards and four first downs, including a 7-yard catch on fourth-and-four. Of course, it doesn't help the Vikings when officials allow defenders to shove Moss to the ground. That happened twice Sunday, but no flags were thrown. Detroit had an interception on one of the plays.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C-minus -- When Michael Bennett's stomach wasn't trying to climb out of his throat, the Vikings' running game was mostly impressive. They had 81 yards on 15 carries (5.4) in the first half, with Bennett carrying the ball 11 times for 62 yards, including a 25-yard burst around right end for a touchdown. But Bennett, seeking a jolt of energy, drank a cup of coffee at halftime. He has never drunk coffee, and it didn't sit well in his stomach. He spent most of the second half throwing up on the sideline. He had only four carries for 11 yards, and the team had only 30 yards on 13 carries. The Lions stripped Moe Williams of the ball and returned it 80 yards for a touchdown in the first half. It was Williams' first lost fumble of the season.
PASS DEFENSE: A -- Don't get too excited. After all, it was Joey Harrington and a woefully subpar receiving corps the Vikings destroyed. The Vikings had four interceptions, giving them seven against Harrington in two games this season. Cornerback Brian Williams tied a team record with three interceptions, including a 42-yard return for a touchdown. His return for a touchdown came 20 seconds after safety Corey Chavous returned one 32 yards for a touchdown. The Vikings led only 10-7 when Aaron Elling kicked a 24-yard field goal with 2:45 left in the game. But the next two plays were the touchdown returns, giving the Vikings a 24-7 lead 39 seconds after Elling's field goal. Chavous extended his NFL-leading interception total to eight, virtually guaranteeing himself of his first trip to the Pro Bowl.
RUSH DEFENSE: A -- Again, don't get too excited. The Lions entered the game with the NFL's worst running game. They were averaging 80 yards per game, and the Vikings held them to 74. And that included a 26-yard scramble by Harrington. Throw that one out and the Lions had 48 yards on 18 carries (2.7). Regardless of the competition, the Vikings needed to stop someone. They had lost four consecutive games, and hadn't stopped the run well in any. They gave up 261 yards to the Packers, 211 to the Chargers and 191 to the Raiders. Strong safety Brian Russell had his best game in five weeks, and young linebackers E.J. Henderson, Mike Nattiel and Nick Rogers pumped some speed into the position. Henderson and Nattiel, who are rookies, played in every nickel situation in place of Greg Biekert and Chris Claiborne. Rogers, a second-year pro, replaced Henri Crockett, on several series.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- The highlight was a 52-yard punt return by rookie Keenan Howry. Howry is close to breaking a punt of kickoff return for his first NFL touchdown. If he had just a tad more burst, he probably would have two this season. Punter Eddie Johnson had a 54-yarder and two punts inside the 20, but he averaged only 38.5 yards on six punts. Onterrio Smith went only 18 yards on the team's only kickoff return. Meanwhile, the Vikings' coverage teams gave up a 34-yard kickoff return and a 28-yard punt return.
COACHING: C -- The Vikings were unimpressive in a game that was mostly lifeless until the defense returned two interceptions for touchdowns in the final three minutes. Do the Vikings' coaches deserve criticism for the team being flat in a game it desperately needed heading into games against St. Louis, Seattle and Kansas City the next four weeks? Or do they deserve credit for the team bouncing back from 11 penalties and two turnovers to snap a four-game losing streak? They deserve modest praise and a hearty reminder that if they continue to play that way the final five weeks, they'll probably finish 1-4 (beating Arizona) or 0-5.
Grading The Game: Lions
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