Some teams want to establish the run, but the Vikings have been considered a passing team ever since their 1998 record-breaking year. After a season-long drought, Minnesota returned to form Monday night against the New York Giants.
Randy Moss and Cris Carter became the first pair of Vikings receivers to each have 10 catches in the same game, and it couldn't have happened on a bigger stage — prime time Monday Night Football against the team that pounded them 41-0 in January's NFC Championship Game and during the game when the late Korey Stringer's jersey was retired.
Moss had his first 100-yard game of the season — easily at 171 yards — and three touchdowns, one more than he had to this point in the season. Carter added another touchdown as the Vikings methodically picked apart the Giants secondary and held New York's publicized defensive line off of quarterback Daunte Culpepper most of the night.
It added up to a 28-16 win and got the Vikings back in the win column after two horrendous losses on the road to Tampa Bay and Philadelphia. The Vikings move to 4-5 on season and kept themselves in the battle for divisional position just over halfway through the season.
The knock on Moss was that he simply hasn't given the effort since signing his $75 million contract in July. Finally, in the first drive of the Vikings' first national prime time game of 2001, Moss made the plays Vikings fans have become accustomed to seeing him make — first drawing a long pass interference penalty and then going aggressively after a poorly thrown ball for the game-opening touchdown.
The Vikings picked up their initial first down with a 13-yard pass to Michael Bennett, making his first start in four games, then went long for Moss. While Daunte Culpepper underthrew the ball, Moss came back to get it and, with mild contact from cornerback Will Allen, drew the pass interference penalty at the 29-yard line. On the next play, Culpepper went back to his speedy receiver and, despite a pass to the inside, Moss ran in front of the defender and pulled the ball out of the air for the touchdown just 2:21 into the game.
But after the Vikings defense nearly held the Giants on their first series of downs, the Giants offense made it look easy all the way until they got near the end zone. They also seemed intent on going after cornerback Robert Tate in the nickel formations. It started with a 15-yard pass to Amani Toomer on third-and-10. On the next play the Giants got down the middle of the field to tight end Dan Campbell for 26 yards. Toomer got another 12-yarder against Tate before Tiki Barber escaped for a 24-yard run to the 5-yard line. But the defense got pressure on Kerry Collins from there and took down Barber for a 6-yard loss. Facing third-and-goal from the 11, rush specialist Patrick Chukwurah sacked Collins for a 14-yard loss — the first of four Vikings sacks — forcing the Giants to bring on Morten Andersen for a 43-yard field goal to cut the lead to 7-3.
Minnesota continued to move the ball through the air, with two passes to Cris Carter for a first down and two passes to Moss for a first down. Then the turnover menace struck again, as Giants defensive lineman Kenny Holmes got to Culpepper from behind, stripping the ball and recovering the fumble on the 41-yard line. On third-and-14, Collins found Ike Hilliard for 13 yards, and Collins picked up the first down with a 2-yard sneak. On the next play, Barber got free again down the right sideline for 29 yards to the 1-yard line and took the carry easily into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown and a 10-7 Giants lead at the end of the first quarter.
Again, the Minnesota offense put together a drive but couldn't keep it going. Two passes to Moss picked up a first down, and a 16-yard run by Bennett brought the ball to the 29-yard line. But two penalties forced the Vikings to punt from midfield, and the Giants set up on the 18-yard line for their first drive of the second quarter.
Minnesota's defense brought heavy pressure on the drive, sacking Collins twice — once by Talance Sawyer and once by Tyrone Carter — in two series. New York had two sets of downs because of a roughing the kicker call on Dale Carter, who dove to block the first punt attempt. But penalties and sacks didn't get the Giants anywhere, and the Vikings eventually took over on their own 26-yard line.
A 9-yard pass to Cris Carter and a 3-yard sneak by Culpepper picked up one first down. Then a facemask penalty on defensive lineman Keith Hamilton picked up another first down, and a 6-yard run by Bennett and a 9-yard pass to Moss got the third of the drive. Facing second-and-3 from the 25-yard line, the Giants gambled big and lost. Jason Sehorn came on a cornerback blitz and left Moss as wide open as it comes in any league. Culpepper spotted him and threw a floater that Moss camped under and strolled into the end zone while taunting no one in particular to give the Vikings a 14-10 lead with 3:54 to play in the first half.
But the penalty on Moss hurt the Vikings, as Mitch Berger kicked off from the 15-yard line and the Giants started their next drive on the 36-yard line and drove into field goal position. It started with a 15-yard pass to Toomer, and New York picked up another first down with a 32-yard pass to Hilliard to the 41-yard line. The Giants got to the 19-yard line, but an incomplete pass on third down brought on Andersen to bring the game within one point at 14-13 with a 36-yard field goal.
Once again, the Vikings crossed midfield on offense with three passes to tight end Byron Chamberlain, but another penalty ruined that effort. On first down from the Giants 30-yard line Culpepper threw an interception to Will Allen with 19 seconds left. The Giants moved to the 32-yard line and attempted a 52-yard field goal that bounced off the crossbar and ended the half with the Vikings holding the lead.
New York took the first possession of the second half and marched with authority again, starting with passes of 20 yards to Hilliard and 32 yards to Ron Dixon to the 32-yard line. But the drive stalled there, and Andersen delivered a 51-yard field goal to give the Giants the lead at 16-14 early in the third quarter.
The M.O. stayed the same for the Vikings, using Moss and Carter to drive into scoring position, but another interception by Allen ended a drive at the end zone, and he returned it to the 12-yard line.
The defense held, and the Vikings had another chance to move the ball across midfield. They did, using a good mix of the pass and the run, getting the ball in the hands of Culpepper, Morrow and Bennett on the ground, and Carter and Moss in the air to the 34-yard line. From there, Culpepper put the ball inside the red zone with runs of 11 and 13 yards to the 10-yard line. Facing third-and-goal from the 10, Culpepper found Chamberlain in stride at the 5, and the tight end tried to propel himself into the end zone but was stopped at the 1-yard line.
A field goal would have given the Vikings a one-point lead, but Vikings coach Dennis Green wanted a bigger lead — and got it. For good. On fourth-and-goal from the 1, Culpepper faked the handoff to Travis Prentice and rolled out left, where he found Cris Carter alone in the back of the end zone for the touchdown and a 20-16 lead with 9:03 to play in the game.
The defense continued to improve as the game wore on and held the Giants to three downs and a punt.
The Vikings took over at their own 48-yard line, but went backwards 5 yards on a Mike Barrow sack of Culpepper. But it didn't faze Culpepper or his receivers, as the quarterback found Moss cutting across the middle of the field and after he picked up a block from Carter was gone for a 57-yard touchdown — his third and final of the game — for the decisive 28-16 lead with 6:32 to play.
Interceptions by Ed McDaniel and Robert Griffith on successive drives stopped the Giants' attempts to pull back into the game, and ended the penalty-filled game, moving the Vikings to 4-5 on the season keeping their flickering hopes of a playoff berth alive.
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