Minnesota Misfires, 41-14

Randy Moss and the Vikings offense was shut out in the first half, picking up zero first downs on their way to a 28-0 halftime score and a 41-14 final in Tampa Bay.

Were there actually reports of Tampa Bay struggling? Was that offensively or defensively? Hello, retractions. The Bucs completely dismantled Minnesota at Raymond James Stadium, beating them physically and taking advantage of myriad Minnesota miscues, in a 41-14 whipping that dropped the Vikings to 3-4 heading into their bye.

Certain places are just bad news for the Vikings. It was obvious early and often that the Vikings in Raymond James Stadium would once again have a game snowball against them.

The Vikings defense held on the first drive, but then gave up three consecutive touchdowns, missed dozens of tackles, and Tyrone Carter had an interception go through his hands. The offense and special teams weren't much better. The offense went three-and-out on their four full possessions, Daunte Culpepper broke his nose, Cris Carter picked up a personal foul and punter Mitch Berger felt the pressure on a punt attempt, scrambled and got off a 27-yard punt. By the time the first half was winding down, Cris Carter and Lance Johnstone were involved in a heated discussion on the sideline.

Numbers don't mean much in the way of analyzing games like this, but the Bucs' domination shows through in the rushing yards especially. While Mike Alstott rushed for 129 yards and three touchdowns and the Bucs compiled 180 yards on the ground, Tampa Bay's defense held Minnesota to 62 yards, and 46 of those were Culpepper's.

With running back Warrick Dunn and wide receiver Jacquez Green out with injuries, the Bucs were dedicated to running the ball, and Mike Alstott gave them every reason to stick with it, scoring two touchdowns in the first half as Tampa Bay built a 28-0 lead.

Tampa drew first blood, despite the Vikings getting to start their first possession just inside Bucs territory. When the offense couldn't move, Mitch Berger blasted a punt well into the end zone and the field position advantage was negated.

Brad Johnson and the Bucs started their second possession from their own 20-yard line and moved methodically through the Vikings defense behind the running of Alstott and receiving of Keyshawn Johnson. Alstott ran eight times for 22 yards on the 15-play drive and Johnson caught three passes for 36 yards. It was the bruising back Alstott that got the touchdown on a 3-yard run 8:23 into the drive and with 1:35 left in the first quarter.

Again, the Vikings offense failed miserably and punted after three downs, setting the Bucs up on their own 34-yard line. They stuck with what worked during their second drive — a heavy dose of Alstott — only this time he gained yardage in even bigger chunks with the aid of very poor tackling by the defense. In nine plays, Alstott pounded and finessed the ball six times for 40 yards, the final run a 6-yard trip into the end zone to give Tampa Bay a 14-0 lead with 9 minutes left in the first half.

It didn't get any better, as the offense took only three plays before yielding to a punt again, and this time a heavy rush on the punt enticed Berger to scramble before getting off a 27-yard punt. That left Tampa Bay only 55 yards away from another touchdown. It took six plays this time, capped with a 35-yard shovel pass to Aaron Stecker with more missed tackles. With 3:34 left in the ugliest first half the Vikings have seen this season, the Bucs had a 21-0 lead and weren't about to stop.

All the offense could do was back up the ball on Cris Carter's personal foul, and Tampa Bay took over on its own 26-yard line. No matter; 76 yards was hardly a challenge for the Bucs in this game. It started with a holding penalty on Randall McDaniel, but passes of 15 yards to Alstott and 10 to tight end Dave Moore picked up the first down. Then passes to Moore, Stecker and Williams put the Bucs on Minnesota's 26-yard line. A 21-yard pass to Johnson and a 5-yarder to Moore capped the touchdown drive and the first half, with the Bucs leading 28-0.

The unbelievable surge continued into the second half, as two penalties took the Vikings from first-and-10 at their own 17-yard line to fourth-and-26 on the 2-yard line. With a good return by Karl Williams on the ensuing punt, the Bucs were set up on the Vikings 25-yard line. Minnesota's defense held, but Martin Gramatica connected on a 44-yard field for a 31-0 lead.

It took only two plays for the Vikings to turn the ball over to Tampa on the next possession, as a pass to Carter deflected off his hands and was intercepted by Dexter Jackson at Minnesota's 37-yard line, setting up a 48-yard field goal by Martin Gramatica as the Bucs took a 34-0 lead.

The Vikings offense picked up its first first down, and eventually its first touchdown on the following drive, which started with a 41-yard pass to Carter. Randy Moss got his first catch of the game, a 19-yarder, and two runs by Culpepper picked up a combined 19 yards to the 1-yard line. Travis Prentice plowed in and the Vikings were finally on the board at 6:28 of the third quarter. A Culpepper run for a 2-point conversion made it 34-8.

But Tampa Bay wouldn't let down. The Bucs moved right down the field again, this time 56 yards on a six-play touchdown drive. Alstott carried four times for 37 yards, the final one a 10-yard blast to the end zone for a 41-8 Tampa Bay lead with 2:18 left in the third quarter.

The Vikings followed with a drive to within 5 yards of a touchdown, but failed to get it into the end zone on fourth down. On their next possession the Vikings did get a touchdown on a 25-yard pass to Moss, but that came with 5:58 left in the game and, down 41-14, it was far too little, much too late.

The loss broke the Vikings' trend of winning going into the bye (they were 9-1 coming into this game) and puts Minnesota below .500 almost halfway into the 2001 season. It will be two weeks of recovering before traveling to Philadelphia for another difficult NFC road game when the schedule resumes in November 11.

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