Grading The Game: Chiefs

In a 45-20 win over what was supposed to be one of the NFL's best teams, it's all good — or excellent — marks on the report card.

PASSING OFFENSE: A-minus — The coaches devised an aggressive game plan for the Chiefs, and the players carried it out with one of their most energized performances of the season. QB Daunte Culpepper had three touchdown passes by halftime, including two to WR Randy Moss. Both of Moss' scores came on audibles at the line of scrimmage. The first was a 30-yard pass that capped a 92-yard game-opening drive. Culpepper anticipated a blitzing cornerback off the right side. RB Onterrio Smith picked up the blitz and Moss chased down the ball at the 1-yard line. Culpepper completed 20 of 29 passes for 260 yards and a 117 passer rating. Moss had seven catches for 111 yards and two touchdowns. TE Jim Kleinsasser also caught his fourth TD pass of the season. The only negative came late in the third quarter when Culpepper threw wildly over the middle and the Chiefs intercepted. The Vikings led 31-7 at the time.

RUSHING OFFENSE: A — Coach Mike Tice challenged the offensive line to have its best game of the season against Kansas City. Why? Because the Chiefs' offensive line is widely regarded as the best in the NFL. The Vikings' front line accepted the challenge. The running game pounded out a season-high 223 yards, led by rookie RB Onterrio Smith's 146 yards and three touchdowns on 21 carries. Smith became the first Vikings rookie to rush for 100 yards in back-to-back games and tied a rookie record with three rushing touchdowns in a game and five in a season. RB Michael Bennett returned from an ankle sprain. He started and gained 31 yards on six carries, but was rested as a precaution in the second half. The Vikings averaged 5.7 yards per carry.

PASS DEFENSE: A-minus — FS Brian Russell had two interceptions, giving him a league-high nine on the season. He also recovered a fumble when CB Brian Williams stripped WR Eddie Kennison of the ball after a 32-yard gain to the Vikings' 14. That was the biggest play of the game, because the Chiefs were in the process of answering the Vikings' game-opening touchdown drive, and quieting the Metrodome midway through the first quarter. It turns out the fumble wasn't a fumble at all. Referee Ron Blum admitted after the game that Williams was out of bounds when he stripped Kennison of the ball. Blum said he missed the call because he was focusing on the Chiefs' challenge that Kennison was out of bounds before the fumble. Blum said it was only after the game while talking to an observer that he realized he had missed the call. Chiefs QB Trent Green completed 18 of 38 passes for 224 yards and a passer rating of 44.2.

RUSH DEFENSE: B — RB Priest Holmes moved the Chiefs within 31-20 early in the fourth quarter with his third rushing touchdown in four Chiefs possessions. Kansas City also averaged 4.6 yards per carry. But because of the score, Holmes had only 18 carries for 55 yards (3.1). Holmes' third rushing touchdown can be blamed on the Vikings' punt team. It gave up a 46-yard return by Kennison to the Vikings' 9-yard line. Holmes did the rest on three consecutive carries.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus — There were some flaws, but it was the Vikings' best special teams performance in at least a month. Most impressive was the way the coverage teams shut down Dante Hall, the league's No. 1 punt returner and one of the best kickoff returners. Hall, who has tied an NFL record with four kickoff and punt returns for touchdowns this season, had one shot at a punt return and five on kickoffs. He had to fair catch the punt at the Chiefs 10. And he averaged 19 yards on kickoff returns with a long of 21 before leaving the game with leg cramps. Vikings P Leo Araguz, signed last Tuesday to replace rookie Eddie Johnson, averaged only 38.3 yards with a net of 20.8, but his hang time was excellent. K Aaron Elling also did a good job angling his kickoffs. And KR Keenan Howry's 31-yard return to the Kansas City 45 was important because it led to a touchdown after the Chiefs had closed to within 31-20 in the fourth quarter. The Vikings also recovered a fumble on a kickoff. The special teams lapses included the 46-yard punt return by Kennison and a penalty on the opening kickoff that pushed the Vikings back to their 8.

COACHING: A — Mike Tice continues to defend his conservative, tough-guy approach at Chicago two weeks ago. Fortunately for the Vikings' playoff hopes, he ditched that plan for an upbeat, aggressive approach at home against the Chiefs. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and Culpepper were unpredictable on first downs, calling 17 runs and 15 passes. There were six runs to the right, six to the left and five up the middle. Defensively, the Vikings were dominant during the 31-0 stretch, but slipped some as the Chiefs scored 20 unanswered points. Special teams coach Rusty Tillman devised an excellent plan to stop Hall. Too bad it didn't work on Kennison, too. Overall, the coaching staff steered the Vikings past a 12-2 Chiefs team that could have left the Vikings needing help to make the playoffs. Now, it's simple. If the Vikings win at Arizona this week, they win the NFC North and open the playoffs at home.

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