A Little Speed Kills Vikings, 48-17

The Vikings knew the speed of the Rams on offense, but it was St. Louis' defensive line that made the plays all game long, forcing eight sacks and three fumbles to continually set up its offense with great field position in a 48-17 whipping against Minnesota. Leonard Little led the way with four sacks and two forced fumbles.

Vikings fans knew they should fear the speed of the St. Louis Rams offense with weapons like Marshall Faulk, Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce. What wasn't as apparent — at least until the second half — was the speed of the Rams defense, or least the blitzing prowess.

St. Louis defensive coordinator Lovie Smith used to give the Vikings trouble in Tampa Bay. He carried his successful scheme with him to St. Louis.

The Rams appeared to confound the Vikings offensive line. Besides the scrambling ability of Daunte Culpepper, the running game was shut down despite a statistic that says Mchael Bennett gained 98 yards. In reality, the rushing game never got into a groove. And when it came to the passing game, the Rams pass rush demolished the Vikings' rhythm as the game wore on. Culpepper was sacked eight times and fumbled twice. Leonard Little was the main nemesis, getting four sacks and forcing both Culpepper fumbles, one which was returned 90 yards for a touchdown.

The troubles weren't limited to the offense. A blocked punt set up the Rams' first touchdown, and a foiled fake field goal attempt set up the Rams on the Vikings' 25-yard line for their third touchdown of the game in the third quarter.

The whole collapse spelled a 48-17 whipping against the speedier — and downright better — Rams, despite Vikings coach Mike Tice saying all week how much he liked the matchups.

In the past, the Vikings have had their share of problems early and often when playing in St. Louis. So it was of little surprise that the hapless woes started again.

Onterrio Smith fumbled the opening kickoff and it was covered by St. Louis. However, the Vikings caught a break when Smith was ruled down. After three downs, the Vikings were forced to punt and Eddie Johnson bobbled the snap. The bobble caused two stutter steps and allowed Jamie Duncan to get the block.

On the Rams' first play from scrimmage, Marshall Faulk took the handoff and broke through the line for an 18-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead less than two minutes into the game.

Once again, the offense struggled, picking up one first down on an 11-yard pass to Nate Burleson, and punted away to St. Louis. The rushing game picked up the touchdown on the previous drive, but the passing game got the Rams in position on their second drive.

Torry Holt started the drive with an 8-yard reception, and Mike Furrey picked up the first down and much more with a 24-yard slant catch-and-run when five pass rushers couldn't produce pressure on Marc Bulger. Holt converted third-and-1 with a 14-yard catch inside the 10-yard line, but an 8-yard sack by Lance Johnstone and an incompletion forced Jeff Wilkins into the game for a 28-yard field goal and a 10-0 Rams lead with 5:40 to play in the first quarter.

On their third drive, the Vikings offense put it together. While it wanted to establish the run, it was the passing game that was more effective later in the drive. Michael Bennett turned third-and-1 into a first down across midfield when a pitch broke outside containment for an 18-yard gain. Two plays later, Jim Kleinsasser turned third-and-6 into another first down with a 9-yard catch-and-rumble. After that, the Vikings wouldn't even see a second down, as Nate Burleson brought it to the 15-yard line with a 17-yard pass play, and Culpepper capped the drive with a 15-yard slant to Randy Moss in the end zone to pull within three points at 10-7.

It wouldn't take long for St. Louis to extend its lead back to 10 points. Again the Rams took advantage of a lack of pass rush. Isaac Bruce and Holt caught back-to-back passes for 25 and 22 yards, respectively. Holt then picked up a 9-yard reception, and Bruce converted that into a first down with a 15-yard reverse. The Vikings looked like they were poised to tighten up the defense inside the red zone, but Ken Irvin was flagged for a questionable holding call after knocking down a third-down pass. With a fresh set of downs at the 8-yard line, a 4-yard run by Faulk was turned into a touchdown with a 4-yard flag-and-slant route by Bruce. After and eight-play drive, the Rams were back on top at 17-7 with 11:50 left in the first half.

The Vikings weren't about to let it get away yet. They went on a 12-play drive that looked like it was headed for a touchdown. Moss did most of the damage, picking the initial first down of the drive with a 23-yard reception on third-and-18. On the next third down, Culpepper picked up the most explosive play of the game when he took a designed quarterback draw 42 yards to the 20-yard line. After a 2-yard pickup from Bennett and a false start, the second of the drive, Moss took the ball to the 3-yard line with a 20-yard crossing route. But when Moe Williams was stuffed for no gain on first down, Culpepper had to dump the ball under pressure on second down and safety Adam Archuletta came free for a 7-yard sack on third down, the Vikings had to settle for a 28-yard field goal with 5:43 left to play in the half.

That left enough time for St. Louis' explosive offense, but after picking up one first down with an 11-yard pass to Furrey, Bulger got greedy. He lofted a bomb down the middle of the field for Holt, and Brian Russell waited behind the coverage with open arms for the interception.

After a weaving return of 41 yards, the Vikings were set up on the St. Louis 41-yard line. Culpepper stood in the face of pressure on second down and delivered a 12-yard pass to Moss. On the next play, Culpepper scrambled for 18 yards to the 5-yard line. The Vikings had to have a touchdown and Mike Tice knew it. After a 2-yard loss on a run to Williams, Kleinsasser got the ball to the 1-yard line. But the Rams stuffed Williams for no gain on third down. Facing fourth-and-inches-to-the-goal-line, Tice opted to keep the offense on the field and was rewarded when Williams dove over the linebacker push for a 1-yard touchdown and a 17-17 tie with 51 seconds left in the half.

That left enough time for the Rams to get into scoring position. Faulk turned a screen pass into a 30-yard gain on first down, and Bulger found Holt for 16 yards to the 33-yard line. As time expired, Wilkins converted the 51-yard field goal for a 20-17 St. Louis lead at halftime.

Its defense would hold from there.

The Rams took that lead into the second half and looked to have the Vikings crossed up on the first series, as Faulk picked up 11 yards on a first-down run, and Holt slipped in front of the first-down marker but was able to regain his footing and move the chains on third down after a 13-yard pickup. From there, the Vikings were able to shut down the Rams offense and force a punt.

Minnesota drove for what looked like a points-producing possession, but the Vikings were shut down on a risky move. Bennett started with a 13-yard run, and Kelly Campbell moved the ball to the St. Louis 46-yard line on a reverse. The double-digit gains continued with a 15-yard pass to Moss, moving the Vikings into scoring position at the 31-yard line. After another Archuletta sack, Bennett got the ball to the 25-yard line with a 12-yard screen pass. But facing fourth-and-4 and staring at a 43-yard field goal, Tice called for a fake. Gus Frerotte took the snap and raised up from his holder position, but when he flipped the ball to Charles Stackhouse, a penetrating defensive lineman tripped up Stackhouse and he never got the pass, ending the drive without any points and keeping the Rams up by three points midway through the third quarter.

They'd quickly add to that lead. The big weapons did it all on a five-play, 75-yard drive. On second down, Bruce caught a 19-yard pass, followed by a 9-yard catch by Holt. But the big hitter came on a reverse pass. The Rams shifted their formation before the snap. Faulk took the handoff and reversed it to Bruce, who slashed across the backfield and found Dane Looker wide open down the right sideline for a 41-yard gain to the 5-yard line. On the next play, Faulk took the handoff and angled left for the touchdown and a 27-17 lead with 4:50 to play in the third quarter.

The failed fake field goal may have hurt the Vikings, but a tipped pass and an 11-yard interception return of by Tyoka Jackson to the 12-yard line set up another short drive for St. Louis. This time Bulger avoided pressure from Kevin Williams and scrambled 12 yards for a one-play drive that put the Rams ahead 34-17 with 2:29 to play in the third quarter.

Culpepper stayed patient, and the short passing game brought the ball to the Rams 40-yard line. Bennett picked up 28 yards on a run that he bumped to the outside, but Tice faced another critical decision. Looking at a 17-point deficit with a fourth-and-3 situation on the 5-yard line, he elected to keep the offense on the field. When the Rams brought the blitz and Archuletta got to Culpepper again, the QB fumbled and Aeneas Williams picked up the ball and sprinted 90 yards for a touchdown and a 41-17 lead.

The rout was on and it continued for one more exchange of possessions. The Vikings went backwards in the face of another sack and punted back to the Rams. Faulk did it all for the Rams on their next drive, gaining 51 yards on a 50-yard drive (backup Lamar Gordon lost a yard on one run) and scoring his third touchdown of the game for a 48-17 whipping with 6:48 to play.

The Vikings continued with their starters and gained yardage but no points the rest of the way.

After an unconvincing win at home last weekend against Detroit, the Vikings needed a win against a strong NFC opponent to prove they are a legitimate playoff team. With a one-game lead in the NFC North, they could still win the division and make the playoffs — but this game in St. Louis could continue doubts about their legitimacy.




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