The Vikings' 2001 season has featured a lot of disappointments, which began on opening day when the team lost to the Carolina Panthers — what would turn out to be Carolina's only win so far this season. But Sunday's 27-24 loss to the Detroit Lions was more painful, since the Lions were winless on the season through 12 games and the loss all but officially eliminated the Vikings from the playoffs (one win by New Orleans in its final four games or a loss by the Vikings the rest of the way makes it official).
The game started poorly for the Vikings and got progressively worse as the first half went on. Detroit got the opening kick, but went three-and-out to give the Vikings their first offensive opportunity of the day. Todd Bouman, who had looked brilliant the week before, wasn't on his game early, throwing a pair of incompletions and then fumbling on a scramble that David Dixon recovered to force a punt.
After another exchange of possessions, Bouman and the Vikings looked more in sync. Michael Bennett began the drive from his own 21 with a 14-yard run, and then Bouman connected with Randy Moss for 19 yards. But when Bouman went for a slant route to Jake Reed, cornerback Todd Lyght stepped in the way and intercepted the ball, racing 59 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 Detroit lead with 6:18 to play in the first quarter.
The Lions seemed primed to return the favor after the Vikings went three-and-out on the ensuing drive. Detroit took over on their own 26 and got a nice carry of 8 yards by James Stewart. However, on the play, Stewart injured his hip and had to leave the game. He was replaced by Aevion Cason, who had just one carry in his NFL career. His second was a fumble forced by Lemanski Hall — who had also knocked out Stewart. The ball was recovered by Tyrone Carter and he was gone for a 46-yard touchdown to tie the game without either offense putting up points — making the score 7-7 with 2:11 to play in the first quarter.
It didn't take the Lions long to have an answer for the Vikings. After Mike McMahon was forced to throw away one pass and scramble for his life on the next, facing with a third-and-9, he threw a bomb to Scotty Anderson for 69 yards to the 1-yard line. McMahon kept on a naked bootleg on the next play for a 1-yard touchdown, and Detroit had the lead back at 14-7 with 55 seconds to go in the opening quarter.
The Vikings offense continued to sputter as the game moved to the second quarter. Minnesota had a chance for a huge play on Detroit's next drive, as McMahon put a pass right into the chest of Patrick Chukwurah, who dropped it — which would have been an easy touchdown. Instead, Detroit kept the ball and, even though the Lions eventually had to punt, it was a shift in momentum that would come into play moments later.
On the next play, Bouman was intercepted by Chris Claiborne on the Vikings 30. While the Lions were unable to capitalize fully on the turnover, they were able to kick a 44-yard field goal by Jason Hanson and, thanks to sloppy play by the Vikings, the Lions had a 17-7 lead with 9:59 to play in the first half.
The offenses continued to have the look of teams with backup quarterbacks, as the Vikings and Lions exchanged punts until the 2-minute warning, when Detroit finally came to life. Starting from his own 26, McMahon scrambled for 8 yards before connecting on passes of 21 and 16 yards to Johnnie Morton to the Vikings 35. A 12-yard pass to Larry Foster put the team in scoring position and, as time ran out, Hanson kicked a 36-yard field goal to give Detroit a 20-7 lead — its largest lead of the season.
It wouldn't hold up, however, as the Vikings stormed back in the third quarter. It started with a 53-yard kick return by Nate Jacquet that had a 15-yard facemask tacked on to put the ball on the Detroit 33. Bouman came out passing, hitting Moss for 8 yards, Reed for 9 and Carter for 7 more to the 9-yard line. And even though the drive stalled, Anderson came on and notched a 27-yard field goal to cut the Detroit lead to 20-10 with 12:23 to play in the third.
The Vikings defense rose up to the occasion to shift momentum. A 10-yard sack by Lance Johnstone got the ball back to the Vikings in a hurry. And as bad as the offense looked early, it could do no wrong this time. Starting from the 10-yard line, Bouman converted a first down with a 21-yard scramble and, on the next play, found Moss in single coverage. Bouman hit Moss in stride with a 66-yard bomb for a touchdown to cut the Detroit lead to 20-17 with 7:12 to play in the third quarter.
The Lions offense continued to struggle. Mired deep in their own end of the field, the Vikings blitzed McMahon and forced him to scramble and come up short of a first down twice and punt back to the Vikings. With momentum on their side, the Vikes would mount an impressive drive to take their first lead of the day.
Starting from the 32-yard line, Bennett opened things with a 7-yard run, which moved the chains on a 9-yard pass to Byron Chamberlain. After a 6-yard pass to Chamberlain, Moss made an impressive acrobatic catch for 15 yards and, with 15 more tacked on for a facemask penalty, the Vikings were quickly to the Detroit 14-yard line. Two plays later, the Vikings were faced with a third-and-9, and Bouman and Moss connected again. Moss made a leaping catch on the right sideline and came down with both feet in for a 13-yard score and, after playing miserably for a half, the Vikings led 24-20 with 1:51 to play in the third quarter.
As the game went to the fourth quarter, the Lions were in a deep hole. A holding penalty and a sack by Chris Hovan brought up a third-and-25 from the 5-yard line, but McMahon converted the first down with a 27-yard strike over the middle to David Sloan. One play later, McMahon went long again, finding Morton for 25 yards. Following an 8-yard run by Stewart that brought up a third-and-2, McMahon scrambled for 22 yards to the Vikings 13. The ground game did the rest, as Stewart took a sweep 8 yards, McMahon scrambled 4 yards for a first down, Stewart burrowed to the 1-yard line, and Cory Schlesinger capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to give Detroit the lead back at 27-24 with 10:36 to play.
The Vikings tried to come back, as Bouman converted a pair of third downs with passes of 13 yards each to Carter and Moss, but a sack by Robert Porcher would end the drive, leaving the Vikings with just one time out and 5:21 on the clock.
The Lions ground out the clock from there. Stewart had runs of 13, 6 and 2 yards and, on a third-and-2, McMahon converted it with a pass to Schlesinger. The Lions kept the ball on the ground, milking the clock, and, content to work the clock and punt, they left the Vikings with one minute to go and no timeouts on their own 19.
Knowing the team needed to get into field goal range, Bouman tried to use his receivers well. He got a 10-yard pass interference call on a sideline pass to Moss and moved the sticks again with a 10-yard sideline route to Carter. With 33 seconds remaining, Bouman found Chris Walsh over the middle for 19 yards to the Detroit 42 — still needing about 10 more yards. He spiked the ball with 19 seconds to play, but then came three incompletions to turn the ball over on downs and give the Lions the victory.
Coming into the game, the Vikings were clinging to a slim playoff hope and the chance to keep Dennis Green's streak of never having a losing season intact. Now the playoff hopes are gone and the Vikings will have to sweep Jacksonville, Green Bay and Baltimore to finish 8-8. All season long, the Vikings have been playing out of a hole, and now it appears as though both the playoffs and the hopes of a winning season are over — perhaps a fitting testament to the 2001 season. VU
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