Bombs, Defense Lead To Big Win

Daunte Culpepper connected on three touchdowns of more than 40 yards, and the defense shut down Seattle's big weapons as the Vikings cruised to a 34-7 win and maintained a one-game lead in the NFC North Division.

Both the Seahawks and Vikings needed a win to stay in the thick of the playoff race, and the talk of Minnesota was the changes head coach Mike Tice was making on defense. While those changes seemed to work, with the defense holding Seattle to seven points with a more aggressive approach, it was the change on offense that he didn't make that made the most noise.

While many were clammering for a change at quarterback, Daunte Culpepper started the game and earned praise with good decisions and three key bombs delivered with precision in a 34-7 rout of a potential NFC playoff team in the Metrodome. Culpepper connected on three touchdowns of more than 40 yards, two to Randy Moss and one to Kelly Campbell, completing 21 of 33 for 274 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. The defense held Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander in check all day, limiting the Seahawks to only 258 net yards.

The win keeps the Vikings with a one-game lead over Green Bay in the division with an 8-5 record.

The defense started early, the offense needed some time to get rolling.

The Vikings moved the ball efficiently on their first drive, throwing pop passes to D'Wayne Bates and Randy Moss to open the game and then getting Moss on a wide receiver screen. The combination accounted for 19 yards, and Michael Bennett moved the ball to midfield with a 6-yard run. But that was as far as the Vikings got, punting away after a third-down pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage.

The Seahawks took over and, after a 19-yard Darrel Jackson reception, the Vikings defense got a key turnover. Following a 9-yard run by Shaun Alexander, Nick Rogers stripped him of the ball and Chuck Wiley recovered. Just like that, two of the Vikings' defensive changes were difference-makers in the early stages.

The offense didn't capitalize, however. Moss picked up two first downs with catches of 7 and 13 yards, but on third-and-10 a quick pass to Bates gained only 8 yards. That forced Aaron Elling onto the field, and his attempt from 40 yards sailed wide left.

Once again, the Vikings defense came up with a drive-stopping play. On third-and-11, Brian Williams came from the slot on a blitz and caught Matt Hasselbeck for a 9-yard sack to end the Seahawks' second drive.

The Vikings followed with a first down on an 18-yard run by Bennett, but they were forced to punt again when Chike Okeafor brought down Culpepper as he tried to break the pocket.

With Seattle's running game struggling, the combination of Hasselbeck to Bobby Engram kept the chains moving. Engram picked up the initial first down with an 18-yard reception as the game moved to the second quarter, and, after a 15-yard rush from Alexander — his first double-digit gain — Engram moved the ball into Vikings territory with a 25-yard catch. A holding penalty backed up Seattle, and they elected for a field goal attempt from 52 yards, but Josh Brown's attempt came up short.

After a heavy dose of the running game and underneath passes, the Vikings offense finally went vertical. Bennett moved the chains with a 2-yard run and a 9-yard catch as an outlet receiver, but on the third play of the drive Culpepper aired it out for Moss. He hit him in stride in the back of the end zone for 47-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead with 13:17 to play in the second quarter.

The defense held again, and the offense took over with 12 minutes to play in the half. Five of the first six plays were runs, and the Vikings looked primed to work the clock. They did exactly that, going on a 15-play drive in which only one play — a 12-yard dump-off pass to Hunter Goodwin — netted more than 9 yards. The result was taking 8:33 off the clock and driving 58 yards before settling for a 36-yard field goal with 3:27 left in the half.

All that time management was looking like it might go to waste when Elling kicked the ball out of bounds on the ensuing kickoff, but after the Seahawks gained 15 yards on two plays, Ken Irvin jumped a slant route to Koren Robinson and came away with an interception at the Seattle 40-yard line.

It appeared the Vikings squandered the opportunity when they punted, but when Alex Banninster was flagged for running into punter Eddie Johnson, the 5-yard penalty was enough for the Vikings to pick up a first down and retain possession. Passes of 8, 11 and 10 yards — all to Williams — put the ball on the 20-yard line with 21 seconds and one time out left, but instead of taking their final time out before third down with 10 seconds left and running another play, Culpepper spiked the ball to bring out the field goal unit. Elling converted, and the Vikings went to the locker room with a 13-0 lead.

While the first half started slowly for the offense, the second half was the opposite.

Seattle's Maurice Morris returned the opening kick 56 yards, and Engram converted another third down with a 29-yard pass play in which he got Brian Williams turned around. But after moving the ball to the 1-yard line, the Vikings stuffed Alexander for no gain on second down. On third down, it appeared they had him stopped again but a second effort put the ball across the plane of the goal line and the Seahawks were right in the game, trailing 13-7 with only 2:18 elapsed in the second half.

The Vikings answered quickly. Campbell picked up a first down with a 10-yard reception, and Bates converted the next third down with a 9-yard slant route. Sitting on the 45-yard line, Culpepper aired it out for Moss again. It worked again, as a lower trajectory pass connected with him in stride for a 20-7 lead with 9:24 left in the third quarter.

The scoring settled down after that, with Seattle picking up two first downs before a controversial third-down play forced on the field goal unit. On third-and-11, linebacker Mike Nattiel came on the blitz and hit Hasselbeck's arm, causing the fumble, and E.J. Henderson recovered with wide open spaces in front of him. However, the play was ruled an incompletion and Mike Tice wasn't able to challenge with the whistles blowing early. Brown came on for the 49-yard field goal, but this one sailed wide right. While Seattle didn't get the points, the Vikings didn't get a defensive touchdown either.

When the offense couldn't pick up a first down at midfield, the punting unit was called upon again. It was time for another gaffe, but this time after Eddie Johnson bobbled and bounced the ball on the carpet, he ran straight ahead 15 yards for a first down, the first time a Vikings punter has picked up a first down in 15 years. All that did was improve the field position, because three plays later Johnson was back on the field punting again.

The defense held again, but the offense could only produce one first down before a holding call backed them into third-and-19 from the 43-yard line. But with Culpepper hitting from 40 to 45 yards out, it was only natural that he lofted a bomb. This time, Moss drew the coverage to the middle of the field and Campbell found the seam along the right sideline for the touchdown and a 27-7 lead with 14:53 left in the game.

The defense did the rest. They held down Seattle's offense on consecutive drives before a nail in the coffin when Mike Nattiel came through with the Vikings' second interception of the game and returned it 80 yards for a 34-7 lead to close out the game.

In one game, the Vikings may have changed the perception of their team. The defensive changes appeared to work flawlessly and the offense started hitting the big plays that had been consistently absent for much of the past month. It could be a game that actually brings them into the playoffs with some momentum … if they can carry it through the month of December and into January.



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