Sunday was both the best and worst of times for the Minnesota Vikings. The best of times came in the first 35 minutes, as the Vikes blew out the Detroit Lions. The worst came in the final 25 minutes, as Detroit rallied for 20 points, but not enough to make up the early margin to give the Vikings a 31-26 win that didn't leave the team completely satisfied.
"It happens all the time in this league — if you don't put a team away, they're going to come back," Cris Carter told VU. "All we needed was one more score, one more big play, and they were done."
The Vikings looked to have the game salted away after a huge first half that got started with the opening drive. Starting from his own 20, Daunte Culpepper came out passing, hitting Michael Bennett and Jake Reed to move the chains and, following a 15-yard face mask penalty on Shaun Rogers, the Vikes were in Lions territory. Detroit had a chance to kill the drive, but Culpepper completed an 18-yard pass to Randy Moss on third-and-11. Following a 23-yard run by Bennett in which he spun off a tackle after appearing to be stopped for a short gain, Culpepper called a QB draw for a 7-yard TD run to give the Vikings the lead with 8:29 to play in the first quarter.
The Lions came right back with some big plays of their own. James Stewart sandwiched a 20-yard completion from Charlie Batch to TE David Sloan with runs of 12 and 24 yards to get Detroit to the Vikings 10-yard line. After a 5-yard run by Stewart, Batch appeared to have a TD to Germane Crowell, but replay on the Jumbotron clearly showed Crowell stepped out on the 1-yard line. The Vikes challenged the call and won. On third down, Stewart was stuffed and the Lions opted to settle for a 19-yard field goal by Jason Hanson to cut the Minnesota lead to 7-3 with 3:59 to play in the first quarter.
The Vikings responded with another scoring drive, set up by a 39-yard kick return by Troy Walters. The drive looked dead early when Culpepper fumbled a snap, but an offside call on a Vikings punt left a fourth-and-1 from the Detroit 46. The Vikings went for it, and Jim Kleinsasser picked up the first down with a 2-yard run. From there, the Vikings got in scoring position with a 22-yard scramble from Culpepper and an 18-yard pass to Cris Carter to the 1-yard line. Travis Prentice ended the drive with a dive from 1 yard out on his first play as a Viking to give Minnesota a 14-3 lead 14 seconds into the second quarter.
The Vikings got a key turnover on the next drive. With Detroit on its own 37, Batch put the ball on Stewart's pads and Chris Hovan recovered the loose ball to give the Vikings possession. While the team converted a first down with a 14-yard pass to Moss, the drive stalled from there. But, thanks to the field position, Gary Anderson had room to nail a 42-yard field goal to give the Vikes a 17-3 lead with 10:42 to play in the half.
The Lions took advantage of a Vikings miscue to stay in the game. Following a 21-yard pass to Crowell, it looked as if the drive was ended, but a helmet-to-helmet hit on Batch by Henry Jones on a third-down incompletion put the ball on the Vikings 22-yard line. The Vikings defense rose up with a sack by Talance Sawyer, but Hanson made good out of the drive by booming a 51-yard field goal with plenty of room to spare to cut the Vikings' lead to 17-6.
After an exchange of punts — the first of the game for both teams — the Vikings got the ball on their own 39-yard line with less than a minute to play and took on the look of the "old Vikings" of recent vintage. After completing passes of 18 yards to Reed and 16 yards to Byron Chamberlain, Culpepper scrambled out of the pocket for what looked like a first down, but, when he received a couple downfield blocks, he was gone for a 33-yard touchdown to give the Vikings a 24-6 lead that they took to halftime.
"That last score was big for us," Culpepper told VU. "We had a big lead and knew we had a chance to put them away in the third quarter. As it turned out, we didn't get that done."
It looked as though the rout was on, however, as a 25-yard run by Stewart went out the window when the Lions' opening drive stalled and the Vikings needed just two big plays to apparently put Detroit away. The first came on a bomb to Randy Moss. Double covered, neither Detroit player was looking for the ball and Culpepper fired a bomb at their heads. When they made contact with Moss, penalty flags flew and a 40-yard penalty moved the Vikings into Detroit territory. On the next play, Carter was locked in single coverage and Culpepper delivered another perfectly thrown bomb for a 47-yard touchdown to give the Vikings a 31-6 lead with 10:25 to play in the third quarter.
The Vikings seemed to relax and begin celebrating early, but the Lions were far from done. The next drive ate five minutes off the clock, but the Lions picked up some serious yardage. It started with a 19-yard run by Stewart. A personal foul on Lance Johnstone kept the chains moving and, after a 15-yard run by Lamont Warren, Batch hit Stewart over the middle with a short pass that became a 15-yard touchdown, and the Lions were inching closer at 31-13.
After a Vikings punt, the Lions opened the fourth quarter with another long drive. Batch did most of it through the air, completing passes of 12 yards to Crowell, 13 yards to Larry Foster and 5 yards to Crowell before locking in on Crowell for a 22-yard touchdown. The 2-point conversion failed, but suddenly the Lions were alive at 31-19 with 14:20 to play.
The Vikings again gave the Lions a chance as Culpepper had a bomb for Moss intercepted on the Vikings 7-yard line, but the Lions would have to eat a lot of clock and would still need two touchdowns to win. Batch did his part, completing passes of 23 yards to Sloan, 11 and 15 yards to Crowell and 18 yards to Johnnie Morton before converting a controversial fourth-and-10 with a 20-yard touchdown to Morton. At first, the officials called Morton out of the back of the end zone and, while it was clear his knees were down, it was less clear whether he had possession. But the call was overturned and instead of the Vikings having a 12-point lead and the ball, the Lions were within five points at 31-26 with 6:18 to play.
The Vikings did their part to milk the clock. Culpepper converted three first downs with passes of 13 yards to Moss, 4 yards to Carter and a 15-yard scramble, forcing the Lions to use all their time outs. By the time the Vikings punted, there was just 1:36 to play and the Lions were 80 yards from paydirt.
Batch blew time from the clock by completing a pair of short passes over the middle that took 45 seconds off the clock, but when he completed passes of 15 yards to Morton and 11 yards to Sloan, the Lions were in position for a chance to win with 15 seconds to play. However, when he completed a pass to Crowell, he didn't run out of bounds and instead went back inside and was tackled on the 20-yard line for a 29-yard gain. But as the Lions feverishly ran to try to get another play off, the clock ran out and the Vikings held on for a 31-26 win.
With the Vikings at 2-3, they need a huge performance next week against the 4-1 Packers. While a win won't put the Vikings in first place — maybe not even second place — the team has a much better outlook than it did last week.
"We needed this game today," Carter told VU. "Green Bay is always a tough opponent for us and we know that if Brett (Favre) is on his game, he'll be hard to handle. But we're back in a position we want to be in and we have to build on this game and keep bringing it." VU
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