Grading The Game: Cardinals

Had it been a 53-minute game, the Vikings would be talking playoffs and getting better grades. But their failures in the final seven minutes — and to take advantage of early opportunities on offense — left them with poor grades on many fronts.

PASSING OFFENSE: D — Quarterback Daunte Culpepper's interception with 55 seconds left in the first half was returned 30 yards to the Vikings 13-yard line and led to a field goal and a 6-0 halftime deficit. Culpepper also had to throw the ball away through the back of the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the 1 on the Vikings' first drive of the game. Randy Moss caught passes on the first two plays and three of the first five, but then caught only two more passes for 11 yards, although he did catch a touchdown pass in the second half. D'Wayne Bates had his best game of the season with four catches for 44 yards, but the Vikings passed for only 197 yards, and the interception hurt in a close game.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C-minus — The Vikings had 150 yards rushing and averaged 4.5 per carry. But they also had first-and-goal at the 3 on their first drive and couldn't score. Back-to-back runs by Moe Williams netted only 2 yards. The Vikings lined up incorrectly on third-and-goal from the 1, and Williams was stuffed for no gain. Michael Bennett had a decent game with 63 yards on 12 carries (5.3). Onterrio Smith, who had back-to-back games of 146 and 147 yards, hurt his ankle and shoulder and carried only five times for 28 yards.

PASS DEFENSE: C — You'd think the grade would be higher with eight sacks and an interception. But the Vikings gave up two passing touchdowns in the final two minutes to blow an 11-point lead. The one everyone will remember is Josh McCown's 28-yard touchdown to Nate Poole on fourth-and-25 with no time left on the clock. CB Denard Walker was in front of Poole, but didn't turn back to make a play. FS Brian Russell came over a step late and pushed Poole out of bounds. Poole got only one foot inbounds, but the officials determined he would have gotten the other down if Russell hadn't pushed him out. Russell also fell down in coverage, allowing TE Steve Bush to catch a 2-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-one 2 minutes earlier. Walker's 30-yard interference penalty on rookie Bryant Johnson led to the final touchdown. On a positive note, rookie Kevin Williams had three sacks, giving him 10.5 on the season, second-best by a rookie in team history behind Keith Millard's 11. Williams has had his first career interception.

RUSH DEFENSE: A — The Cardinals had only 64 yards and a 3.4 average per carry. Marcel Shipp had 17 yards on nine carries. Emmitt Smith was only slightly better with 20 yards on seven carries. McCown, who was running early and often, led the rushing attack with 27 yards on three carries.

SPECIAL TEAMS: D — The worst mistake was losing control of an onside kick with 1:54 left in the game and leading by five points. The ball hit Jim Kleinsasser in the hands, but he was hit by a wave of Cardinals players at the same time. K Aaron Elling missed a 44-yard field goal wide right. PR Keenan Howry averaged only 3.5 yards per punt return. Kelly Campbell averaged only 20.5 yards on two kickoff returns. P Leo Araguz averaged only 39.3 yards per punt with none inside the 20.

COACHING: D — Mike Tice should have taken the field goal rather than go for it on fourth-and-goal at the one on the Vikings' first drive of the game. He needs to be less emotional on game day and take the easy points when they're there. The Cardinals weren't going to score a ton of points. A field goal in a close game could have made all the difference. Defensively, the Vikings were superb for the first 54 minutes and sloppy in the final six. Offensively, there's no excuse for being shutout in the first half at Arizona. Moss disappeared from the game plan, and reappeared only once when he caught a touchdown in the second half.



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