PASSING OFFENSE: C — Quarterback Daunte Culpepper threw for 330 yards and a touchdown, receiver Randy Moss had 10 catches for 160 yards and a touchdown, and tight end Jim Kleinsasser had career highs in receptions (10) and yards receiving (79). Why then was the passing attack so out of whack? Because Culpepper was sacked a career-high eight times, including four by defensive end Leonard Little. Because there were six false starts, three by right tackle Mike Rosenthal. Because Culpepper had a ball tipped and intercepted, giving the Rams the ball at the Vikings 12. And because Culpepper was stripped of the ball on a sack, leading to Aeneas Williams' 90-yard fumble return for a touchdown.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C — The final numbers don't reflect how poorly the Vikings ran the ball against one of the worst run defenses in the NFL. The Vikings ran for 189 yards and a 7.3-yard average. But Culpepper had 70 yards on four carries, receiver Kelly Campbell had 14 yards on an end around, and RB Michael Bennett gained 28 of his 98 yards on a quick pitch. Early on, the Vikings were stopped when they tried to overpower the smaller Rams defensive front. That allowed the Rams to crank up their blitz packages and get to Culpepper. The Rams also blitzed on running situations, stuffing the ball carrier for short gains many times.
PASS DEFENSE: D — The Vikings made two good plays against the Rams' passing attack. DE Kenny Mixon sacked Marc Bulger in the red zone, and free safety Brian Russell had his seventh interception of the season to set up a game-tying touchdown in the second quarter. Other than that, the Vikings were consistently a step behind the Rams' receivers. With little pressure to deal with, the Rams had six completions of 20 or more yards. NFL leading receiver Torry Holt had eight catches for 102 yards and Isaac Bruce caught three passes for 49 yards and threw a 41-yard completion to Dane Looker on a third-quarter trick play.
RUSH DEFENSE: D — One reason the Rams were so crisp in the passing game is Faulk looked 10 years younger in probably his best game of the season. Instead of a 30-year-old battling injuries, Faulk glided through wide holes and past slow defenders for 108 yards on 17 carries (6.4) and three touchdowns. He scored on an 18-yard run on the Rams' first play from scrimmage. Bulger scored a fourth rushing touchdown on a 12-yard scramble that came one play after a Vikings interception.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D — The worst game of the season, by far. P Eddie Johnson bobbled a snap in the first quarter, allowing Rams LB Jamie Duncan enough time to break through the line and block the punt. It was only the second blocked punt given up in the past 14 years by a special teams unit coached by Rusty Tillman. One play later, the Rams scored on an 18-yard run by Faulk. The placekicking unit failed to execute a fake field goal attempt in the third quarter. Trailing 20-17 and lined up for a 43-yard game-tying attempt, the Vikings called for a shovel pass from holder Gus Frerotte to FB Charles Stackhouse, who was lined up as the left wingback. Stackhouse was cut down by a penetrating defensive lineman, and the shovel pass fell incomplete.
COACHING: D — All last week, coach Mike Tice was determined to call a fake field goal against the Rams. He called one, bypassing a 43-yard attempt. But it failed miserably when Charles Stackhouse was knocked down and holder Gus Frerotte's shovel pass fell incomplete. Instead of a possible 20-20 tie, the Vikings turned the ball over on downs and fell behind 27-17 five plays later. The Vikings also are making too many mistakes. They had at least 10 penalties for the fourth consecutive game. They had 11, including six false starts. They also had a punt blocked for the first time this season. The Vikings have lost five of their past six, but still lead Green Bay by one game in the NFC North Division. With Seattle (8-4) and Kansas City (11-1) as their remaining home games, and a trip to Chicago — where the Bears are 4-1 — still left, an 8-8 season, or 7-9, is a real possibility.
Grading The Game: Rams
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