The Vikings had the No. 1 offense in the NFL last year. The Cowboys had the No. 1 defense. When something had to give Sunday in the Metrodome, it was the Dallas defense.
It gave up five touchdown passes to Daunte Culpepper, as the fifth-year quarterback completed 17 of 23 passes for 242 yards and five scores en route to the Vikings' 35-17 season-opening win. Culpepper finished the game with a 147.1 rating.
Minnesota's defense bent heavily, especially early, giving up 355 yards passing to Dallas quarterback Vinny Testaverde over the course of the game, but it limited Testaverde to one touchdown pass.
The cornerbacks also showed a physical style of play not seen in Minnesota recently, as Antoine Winfield forced two fumbles and Brian Williams made some violent hits in the second half.
Dallas took the opening kick and, with rookie running back Julius Jones deactivated, committed to the pass to start. Keyshawn Johnson caught two passes for 30 yards and brought the Cowboys across midfield. Antonio Bryant followed with a 28-yard reception when safety help was too late on a floating pass to the 9-yard line. But after Dallas made it look easy getting inside the 10, the Vikings defense stiffened, forcing two incompletions with tighter coverage before Billy Cundiff got the call with a 27-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead with 11:02 to play.
Culpepper picked up a first down in the face of a full blitz with a 14-yard pass to Marcus Robinson, but that was all the chain-moving the offense could muster in the first quarter.
The Cowboys created their own breaks on the next series. It started with Antonio Bryant fighting for extra yardage on the initial third down of the drive. On the next third down, the Cowboys needed 7 yards and Bryant and Testaverde gave them 22. Three plays later, Dallas needed 5 yards and Richie Anderson gave them 4, but since they were at the Vikings 36, Dallas went for the first down and fullback Darian Barnes' second effort eked out 1 yard when it looked like the Vikings had them stopped on fourth down. On the fourth third down of the drive, Rushen Jones gave the Cowboys another first down with an illegal-hands-to-the-face penalty on an incomplete pass. Dallas would face one more third down on the drive, but tight end Jason Witten could only pick up 3 yards when he needed 8. On the 21st play of the drive, the Cowboys went for a 24-yard field goal, but holder Matt McBriar fumbled the snap and Dallas came away empty.
The Cowboys had controlled the ball for more than 12 minutes in the first quarter and only led 3-0.
Minnesota would quickly change that.
The Vikings faced third-and-1 on their third play of the ensuing drive, and when the Cowboys stacked the middle of the line Culpepper called for an audible and found Onterrio Smith wide open over the middle. After picking up the first down, Smith was off to the races for a 63-yard touchdown, the third-longest in Vikings opening-day history. After Dallas' offensive domination to start the game, the Vikings had a 7-3 lead with 11:26 to play in the first half.
The defense fed off the offense and stopped the Cowboys for the first time before they crossed midfield, and the Vikings looked for an extended drive after receiving the ball with 9:33 left in the first half.
They did it with an impressive mix of passes and runs, some designed and some via Culpepper's scrambling ability. It started with an 11-yard pass to Nate Burleson for the initial first down, followed by a Culpepper scramble of 11 yards to reach his own 40-yard line. Culpepper then found Randy Moss for his first reception of the game after scrambling to buy time. Culpepper picked up another first down with a scramble before Moe Williams got involved with two touches for 20 yards. Culpepper picked up his final first down with his third run of the drive, an 8-yard quarterback draw to the 4-yard line. One play later, he threw high for Marcus Robinson, who pulled in the 3-yard TD pass with 30 seconds left in the first half.
However, with a 14-3 lead, Minnesota made a critical error when it elected to kick the ball onside.
Dallas started with the ball on its own 35-yard line with 26 seconds left, plenty of time to move into field goal position — but they would do one better. Testaverde drove with aplomb and efficiency, hitting Johnson for 15 yards and Glenn for 18 yards to the Vikings 32-yard line, but with five seconds left Testaverde found Glenn in a seam for a 32-yard touchdown to pull the Cowboys within four points at 14-10.
The Cowboys probably deserved to be that close with the Vikings after a first quarter of dominance and a first half that saw them out-passing the Vikings 202 yards to 127. However, the Vikings had the chance for their 14-3 halftime lead and didn't get it done.
The Vikings channeled that negative defensive play into positive offense, as they spread the ball around. Onterrio Smith picked up 11 yards to start the chains moving. Culpepper then found Jim Kleinsasser for 18 yards before a pass interference penalty on replacement safety Tony Dixon (covering Moss) accounted for 42 yards. The Vikings went back to Moss on second down for a 3-yard touchdown and a 21-10 lead with 12:25 to play in the third quarter.
The Cowboys answered — or rather Rashard Lee answered. The backup running back did it all on Dallas' ensuing drive — including the kickoff return. After a 62-yard return to the 31-yard line, Lee took four handoffs, the final one finding the end zone on a 7-yard run as Dallas pulled within four points again, 21-17.
But that's as close as Dallas would get.
The Vikings kept the game offensive with another touchdown drive. Culpepper distributed the ball to tight end Jermaine Wiggins and Smith to start the drive, but the big play was set up beautifully. On one play, Culpepper faked a reverse to Moss before scrambling for no gain. On the next play, he handed off to Moss going the other way, and Moss pulled up to float a pass to Robinson for a 37-yard pass play to the 8-yard line. Three plays later, Culpepper drilled a pass to Moss for a 1-yard touchdown for a 28-17 lead with 6:01 to play in the third quarter.
After an exchange of punts, the Cowboys had the ball and were driving into the end zone in desperation time. When Richie Anderson was hit for no gain, Winfield popped the ball out and recovered the fumble to put the advantage solidly on the Vikings' side.
Four plays later, Culpepper sealed the win with his fifth touchdown pass of the game, a 43-yard bee-bee to an outstretched Kelly Campbell with 6:56 left in the game. It closed the scoring at 35-17 and capped an impressive game for Culpepper.
He'll need that efficiency on the road next Monday night when the Vikings face another strong defense in Philadelphia.
Culpepper Gets Offensive In Vikings Win
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