After a weekend of speculation on the long-term status of Daunte Culpepper following a knee injury and his relationship with Dennis Green, the attention Sunday turned to backup Todd Bouman. Could the former NCAA Division II quarterback continue his five quarters of sparkling play, and what effect would that have on his future with the Vikings or another team looking for an offseason trade?
The impressive Bouman era ended quickly in Pontiac, Mich., against the winless Detroit Lions in the first half. The second half was spotted with a two good series, enough to make an impressive third-quarter comeback, at least, until falling short in the fourth quarter.
The Vikings, who gave Carolina their only win of the season in the opening game, also have the distinction of giving Detroit its only win of the season, 27-24. The Vikings, 5-8 overall, remain winless on the road and will surely come home to an owner ready for answers.
But the players didn't provide many answers on the field. The offense was sickly in the first half, rejuvenated in the third quarter and morbid again in the fourth quarter when it counted.
Bouman finished 18-for-38 for 243 yards, two interceptions and two touchdowns — both to Randy Moss, who had 144 yards receiving — and Michael Bennett, despite getting some holes early on, only carried the ball 10 times for 40 yards. Moss finished with seven catches for 144 yards, but the Lions offense racked up 167 yards on the ground behind running back James Stewart and rookie running quarterback Mike McMahon.
Minnesota's defense started the game strong, shutting down the Lions offense in two consecutive series behind a sack by rookie Patrick Chukwurah and an aggressive and effective rushing defense led by Chris Hovan, playing with a sprained ankle. But the Vikings offense wasn't effective enough to help out. It picked up one first down, as Randy Moss got involved early on the first Bouman pass, and Bouman converted the 8-yarder into a first down with a sneak. But the drive ended there.
On their next possession, the balance of the Vikings offense came forward, with Michael Bennett running for 14 yards on the first play of the series and Moss picking up 19 yards down the right side on the next play. But on the third play of the drive Bouman called for an audible and cornerback Todd Lyght read the quick pass to Chris Walsh perfectly. Lyght, covering Cris Carter in the slot, stepped in front of the pass and returned it 59 yards for a touchdown with 6:18 left in the first quarter.
Trailing 7-0, the Vikings offense couldn't pick up a first down, but the defense delivered. First, linebacker Lemanski Hall knocked running back James Stewart temporarily out of the game with a hard hit on a screen pass, then two plays later Hall knocked the ball loose from Stewart's replacement. Tyrone Carter picked up the ball on the run and went 46 yards for the second defensive touchdown of the game, tying the score 7-7 late in the first quarter.
But the big plays weren't done just yet. This time the Lions offense produced. Facing third-and-9, rookie quarterback Mike McMahon got the Vikings to jump offside, then went for the deep ball on the free play. Scotty Anderson found the opening deep in the secondary and was finally brought down on the 1-yard line after a 69-yard bomb. McMahon finished the effort with a 1-yard run for a 14-7 Lions lead with 55 seconds left in the opening quarter.
Bouman picked up one first down with a pass to Walsh, but the drive ended there and a 55-yard punt by Lee Johnson, filling in for an injured Mitch Berger, left the Lions with the ball at their own 8-yard line. But it would be a drive of missed opportunities for the defense. Chukwurah nearly had an interception that bounced off his hands, but it wouldn't matter anyway because the Vikings were charged with having 12 men on the field, allowing the Lions to drive to midfield before punting.
And Bouman gave it right back to the Lions, as he threw a pass that was tipped by linebacker Barrett Green and intercepted by Chris Claiborne on the first play of the series. Detroit was unable to convert a first down, but a 44-yard field goal by Jason Hanson gave them a 17-7 lead midway through the second quarter.
After two more series of little production, the Lions finished the first half with a field-goal producing drive. McMahon looked sharp nearly all half long, but on this drive especially, missing only two passes, as the Lions got inside the red zone after receptions of 21 and 16 yards by Johnnie Morton. Hanson extended the Lions' biggest lead of the season to 20-7 when he hit a 36-yard field goal as time expired in the first half.
After only 77 yards of offense in the first half, the Vikings needed a break in the second half, and it came early, when Nate Jacquet had a 53-yard kickoff return to open the half, plus a 15-yard facemask tacked on to the end of the return. The Vikings were in prime position to score, starting on the 33-yard line, and they came out passing. Bouman hit Moss for 8 yards, Jake Reed for 9 and Cris Carter for 7 to the 9-yard line. But two incompletions, one a dropped pass by Reed in the end zone, forced Anderson on for a 27-yard field goal to open the second half and bring the Vikings to within 10 points.
The defense held after a series-ending sack by Lance Johnstone, and Bouman and the Vikings set up shop on their own 10-yard line after a muffed punt return. The offense came to life, as Bouman looked to find a quick-throwing rhythm. He converted a third-and-7 into a first down with a 21-yard run, then threw it long on the fourth play of the drive. He lofted a high pass for Moss down the right sideline, and the ball found him in stride for a 66-yard touchdown with 7:12 left in the third quarter. Just that quickly, the Vikings were within three points, trailing 20-17.
Another strong defensive effort forced the Lions offense off the field in three plays, and Bouman stayed in his second-half groove with Moss. Bennett and tight end Byron Chamberlain combined to pick up a first down, and Moss converted a third down with a tremendous one-handed catch while being interfered with, and he garnered a facemask penalty to add yardage to insult. That put the Vikings on the 14-yard line of the Lions, and, after a 1-yard run by Doug Chapman, Moss capped the drive with another great catch in the end zone for the Vikings' first lead of the game, 24-20 with 1:51 left in the third quarter.
As it turned out, that would be the only good quarter of football the Vikings offense would play Sunday.
The momentum was clearly on the side of the Vikings, and they had the Lions just where they needed them, pinned at their own 6-yard line after a sack by Chris Hovan and facing third-and-24. But with McMahon feeling the pressure, he stepped up in the pocket and found tight end David Sloan in front of safety Orlando Thomas. Sloan made the catch — and the first down. That gave the Detroit offense new life, and it showed. Morton picked up another first down with a 26-yard catch-and-run to cross midfield. After a 7-yard run by Stewart, McMahon put the ball inside the red zone with a 22-yard bootleg into the open field. The elusive quarterback picked up another first down with a 4-yard run to the 2-yard line, and fullback Cory Schlesinger rammed it into the end zone one play later with 10:36 left in the game. Detroit had a three-point lead at 27-24— and momentum.
But the Vikings weren't about to simply give up. Carter picked up a first down with an athletic 13-yard catch across the middle, and Moss picked up another first down with the same play that picked up a first down on the previous drive — a fade down the right sideline in single coverage with Bryant Westbrook. Despite moving into Detroit territory, the drive would end without points, as a Robert Porcher sack and an incompletion forced a punt.
With 5:21 to play and a precarious three-point lead to protect, the Lions turned to the ground game to take precious time off the clock. And with the Vikings defense already tired from a first half of being on the field almost twice as much as the offense, Detroit's strategy worked. Stewart picked up a first down on the first carry and, two plays later, Schlesinger took a pass in the flat 19 yards to midfield for another first down. Three rushing plays later, with only 1:09 left in the game, the Lions were finally forced to punt.
Minnesota took over on the 19-yard line with exactly one minute to get into field goal position. It nearly did, as a pass interference call on Westbrook against Moss picked up one first down, an 11-yard pass to Carter picked up another and an 18-yarder to Walsh moved the ball across midfield. But with no timeouts, Bouman was forced to spike the ball after the pass to Walsh in the middle of the field. It would prove a costly loss of a down, as three straight incompletions ended the Vikings' hopes on the Lions 42-yard line.
Detroit got its first win of the season, the Vikings were eliminated from the playoffs and remained winless on the road and a team in turmoil. Now, after a game next Sunday at the Metrodome against Jacksonville, the Vikings finish to tumultuous 2001 season with two challenging road games — at Lambeau Field in Green Bay and at Baltimore against the defending Super Bowl champions and former Vikings offensive coordinator Brian Billick.
But the biggest challenge may still be to stay together while trying to avoid their first losing season under Dennis Green's watch.
Lions Tame Bouman, Vikings
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