The offense was not a problem in the first half. Neither was the defense. However, a few critical mistakes kept the Vikings from scoring even more points in a 23-10 win against an overmatched San Francisco 49ers team in the third game of the 2004 preseason.
The stat book was stuffed with big numbers: Michael Bennett had 91 yards on 11 carries. Daunte Culpepper was 20-for-27 for 204 yards and two touchdowns. Nate Burleson had 89 yards on five receptions. Defensively, the Vikings held the 49ers to 11 first downs, 2-for-12 on third downs and only 167 total net yards.
The mistakes came mainly in the form of a fourth-quarter Gus Frerotte interception in the end zone and from Aaron Elling, who missed two field goals — one from 44 yards and one from 32 yards — and an extra point.
It was a performance from a young, shaky kicker in which Mike Tice said he was "definitely disappointed." Tice said Elling "had plenty of opportunities" and that he would likely bring another kicker into camp next week.
But besides Elling's misses and Frerotte's interception, there was little else to criticize in a dominant Vikings performance.
Things started brilliantly for the Vikings' first-team offense, which continued its incredibly efficient preseeason. The first drive was all Burleson. He opened the series with an 8-yard reception from Culpepper and picked up the first down on the following play with a 21-yard reception. After a 1-yard run from Bennett and a throwaway under heavy pressure in a five-receiver set, Culpepper went back to Burleson on third down. He beat the coverage at the 2-yard line and waltzed into the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead two minutes into the game.
The defense started equally as primed, as Kenechi Udeze quickly ended San Francisco's first series with a third-down sack of Tim Rattay.
The offense continued the momentum, starting with two pass plays to tight end Jim Kleinsasser for 17 yards. The next two plays went to Randy Moss, who picked up a first down with a combined 12 yards of receiving. After a 7-yard draw to Michael Bennett, Culpepper hit Kelly Campbell in stride on a go route down the right sideline for a 26-yard touchdown and a 13-0 lead (after Elling's missed extra point) with 8:38 to play in the first quarter.
The rout was on, and after the defense forced San Fran out in three plays, the Vikings were determined to run the ball with Michael Bennett. The passing game had been working, and head coach Mike Tice wanted to get the running game going too.
Bennett ran the ball four of the first five plays in the series and was effective. He gained 27 yards on those plays before the emphasis of the offense turned to Campbell. He caught one pass for 8 yards and converted a third down later in the drive with a 16-yard catch to the 18-yard line, but on the next play Moss went for a stiff arm and fumbled instead. Cornerback Jimmy Williams caused and recovered the fumble, sending the offense to the sidelines for the first time without points to show for it.
For the third consecutive series, the defense forced the 49ers off the field in three plays, thanks to back-to-back stuffs of the run by Corey Chavous and E.J. Henderson, and this time the offense came back for more points. Tice stuck with the running game, and Bennett rewarded the philosophy with carries of 12 and 13 yards to start the drive. After Culpepper scrambled for 18 yards and hit Moss for 9 more, the Vikings started to back up. Culpepper had no chance on a blitzing sack and Adam Goldberg followed with a holding penalty. By the time it was done, the Vikings had to settle for a 35-yard Aaron Elling field goal and a 16-0 lead with 10:29 to play in the first half.
That's how the first half would end despite four more possessions between the two teams.
The 49ers drew first blood in the second half. After an exchange of possessions, running back Jamal Robertson took two carries — one for 40 yards and a follow-up for 6 yards and a touchdown — to make it 16-7 five minutes into the second half.
With Gus Frerotte in the game, the Vikings went with a heavy dose of Mewelde Moore, but after getting to the 14-yard line Aaron Elling missed another kick, this one a 32-yard field goal wide left.
The 49ers took over and ran on 8 of 11 plays from scrimmage before kicking a 43-yard field goal to draw within six points at 16-10 with 11:39 play.
The Vikings turned the ball over without points on another mistake, another one that was unacceptable in Tice's book. After Frerotte drove the offense from the 39-yard line to the 2-yard line, he made a critical error. Scrambling and trying to buy time, he held on too long before throwing to a covered Ben Nelson. Cornerback Mike Adams came away with the ball in the end zone and the Vikings failed on another red zone attempt.
Frerotte, however, made up for the mistake with a touchdown drive midway through the final quarter. Onterrio Smith drove the across midfield with his hard-charging rushing attack and the Vikings were aided by a pass interference call on third down. They backed themselves into third-and-17 on a holding call, but Larry Ned got the key carry, breaking a run to the right for a 23-yard touchdown and a 23-10 lead with 3:38 to play.
After a Spencer Johnson sack on third down ended the ensuing drive, the Vikings had a 23-10 win. In a game that they racked up 543 yard of offense, Minnesota could have had more points against an inferior team, but a few mistakes cost them points but not the game.
The most critical mistakes were by Elling, and they could end up costing him his job before the regular season begins.
Mistakes Hinder Vikings From Blowout
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