Loss Deja Vu For Vikes

Dennis Green and his Vikings have always struggled in Tampa Bay, and Sunday was far from an exception, as the Bucs handed a determined loss to the Vikings, 41-14.

Sunday was a painful reminder of Oct. 29, 2000. Just one day short of a year ago, the Tampa Bay Bucs faced a desperation situation against the 7-0 Vikings and hammered Minnesota 41-13. This time around, the Vikings were 3-3, not 7-0, and had the same opportunity to bury the 2-3 Bucs. But, 364 days after one of the worst poundings in Dennis Green's coaching career, the Buccaneers laid an almost identical thrashing on the Vikings — dominating the Vikings in a 41-14 blowout.

The Bucs dominated from the outset, not allowing the Vikings to get a first down until the third quarter and, by the time that happened, the Bucs had 20 first downs and 28 points. In short, it was an old-fashioned butt kicking and the Vikes supplied the butt.

Tampa got things started from the outset. Buried on their own 4-yard line when kick returner Dwight Smith stepped out of bounds on the opening kick, Brad Johnson converted a huge third-and-13 play to Reidel Anthony to move the chains. While it didn't result in any scoring, it got the Bucs out of a hole and set up the next drive that would display the Bucs' dominance.

The Vikings went three-and-out on their first drive and the Bucs took over on their own 20-yard line. Johnson came out passing, hitting Keyshawn Johnson with passes of 11 and 15 yards to pick up one first down before turning the game over to Mike Alstott. Alstott carried the next three times to get inside the Vikings 40, and Johnson converted a fourth-down play with a 3-yard sneak. After Brad Johnson went to the air with passes of 11 yards to Keyshawn, 9 yards to Karl Williams and 5 yards to Dave Moore, Alstott capped the drive with his 11th carry of the quarter — a 3-yard TD to give the Bucs a 7-0 lead with 1:35 to play in the first quarter.

The Vikings offense again stumbled, going three-and-out as the game moved to the second quarter and the Bucs refused to let up. Tampa Bay assaulted the Vikings offense on the next drive to take control of the game. Setting up on his own 34, Brad Johnson started with an 8-yard pass to Reidel Anthony and, after an 11-yard run by Alstott, Anthony took a reverse for 16 more yards to the Vikings 31-yard line. Alstott took over from there, taking consecutive runs of 11, 8, 1 and 3 yards and, after Aaron Stecker took a breather play for 2 yards, Alstott came back in and bulled in from 6 yards to give the Bucs a 14-0 lead with 9 minutes to play in the half.

The Vikings' offensive woes continued, as the team again failed to pick up a first down and the Bucs were primed for a rout. Taking over near midfield, Alstott became the tonic, taking runs of 7 and 11 yards before Johnson threw a harmless screen pass to Stecker that turned into a 35-yard touchdown thanks to sloppy tackling and good downfield blocking. Suddenly the score was 21-0 with 3:34 to play in the half.

The Vikings' miserable offensive day continued as the offense again failed to pick up its first first down of the game. Meanwhile, the Bucs continued to put the hammer down. After a 16-yard run by Alstott to start the next drive, Johnson threw passes of 10 and 6 yards to Moore and 15 yards to Stecker to get the Bucs to the Vikings 32 in the final minute of the half. The ground game was working, but so was the passing game, as Johnson completed hurry-up passes of 12 yards to Williams, 21 yards to Keyshawn and a 5-yard touchdown pass to Moore in the final seconds to send Tampa Bay to the locker room with a 28-0 lead.

Things got no better in the second half, as it began with yet another three-and-out for the Vikings. Following a 28-yard punt return by Williams, even though the Bucs weren't trying to continue the offensive assault they were able to convert the field position into a 44-yard field goal by Martin Gramatica to give Tampa Bay a 31-0 lead three minutes into the third quarter.

Just when it seemed as though things couldn't get worse for the Vikings, they did. With both Corbin Lacina and David Dixon sidelined with injuries, Culpepper's next pass sailed high to Cris Carter. He tried to make a play, but merely deflected the ball into the hands of Dexter Jackson for an interception on the Vikings 37. Again, the Bucs were content to run the ball and, when they didn't get a first down, Gramatica came on once again for a field goal — this from 48 yards out — to give the Bucs a 34-0 lead with 10:05 to play in the third.

After 35 minutes of futility, the Vikings finally mustered a drive together, picking up their initial first down of the game with less than 10 minutes left in the third quarter on a 40-yard pass from Culpepper to Carter. Two plays later, Randy Moss got in the act with his first catch — a 19-yarder. After a 12-yard scramble and a 7-yard QB draw by Culpepper, Travis Prentice capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown dive to give the Vikings their first points. Culpepper ran in the 2-point conversion and the Vikings were finally on the board, trailing 34-8 with 6:28 to play in the third quarter.

With the Vikings trying merely to salvage some dignity, the Bucs took that away from them on the next drive. Starting from the 44-yard line, Alstott took a carry up the middle for 17 yards. After passes of 3 yards to Moore and 17 yards to Williams, Alstott did the rest — following up runs of 4 and 5 yards with a 10-yard touchdown run to give the Bucs a 41-8 lead with 2:12 to play in the third.

The Vikings kept trying to come up with something offensively, but the Bucs weren't having any of it. After picking up a first down on a 15-yard pass to Carter and a pass interference penalty, the Vikings got to the 5-yard line. On a fourth-and-goal from the 5, Culpepper tried a QB draw but was brought down on the 2-yard line to turn the ball over on downs in the first minute of the fourth quarter.

The Bucs had the game so well in hand, Tony Dungy pulled Alsott and Brad Johnson and turned the game over to Shaun King. His first pass was a 20-yarder to Frank Murphy and, while the Vikings were able to make a defensive stop after that, the drive had eaten up almost four minutes and left the Vikings on their own 38-yard line following the punt.

The Vikings mounted a final scoring drive, pulling out the stops with a trick play to start. Culpepper completed a short pass to Carter, who lateraled to Chapman for an 11-yard gain and, following a 16-yard scramble by Culpepper, a pass interference call on Brian Kelly moved the ball to the 29-yard line. Two plays later, Moss cleared the deep zone, and as Culpepper avoided a sack he launched a strike to Moss for a 25-yard TD. After a pass failed on the conversion, the Vikings trailed 41-14 with 5:58 to play.

Tampa Bay gave the Vikings a chance to add to the score when Chris Walsh stripped Smith of the kickoff return and recovered it, but Todd Bouman was brought in to quarterback and had the look of a deer surrounded by headlights, taking two sacks on three plays as the Vikings turned the ball back to the Bucs. Tampa simply ran out the clock, thanks to a 17-yard run by Stecker and a 42-yard pass from King to Williams, ending a humiliating loss that seemed eerily reminiscent of the loss at Tampa last year.

With the defeat, the Vikings fall back into fourth place in the NFC Central with a 3-4 record — three games behind Chicago, two games behind Green Bay and a half-game behind Tampa Bay after yet another season series split (the ninth straight year that Minnesota and Tampa Bay have each won a game). The loss will make the bye week a little more painful than usual, since the Vikings always used the bye to set up the second half of the season and were given time off when the team went into the bye with a win. That win didn't come this year, and it's clear that if the Vikings are going to right the ship — starting with tough games against Philadelphia and the Giants after the break — they're going to have to get it done during the bye week and come back with a chip on their shoulder. VU

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