Six times the Minnesota Vikings found themselves inside Philadelphia's 30-yard line Monday night. Only once did they score a touchdown, and that ultimately led to a disappointing 27-16 loss against one of the NFL's best teams on a night where the Vikings had a chance to claim the game throughout.
Randy Moss scored Minnesota's only touchdown, and Morten Andersen was 3-for-4 on field goal attempts, coming up short on a 44-yard attempt in the fourth quarter. The other time the Vikings had the ball in the red zone, Daunte Culpepper was stripped of the ball at the goal line and turned it over on first-and-goal from the 1.
It was that sort of night. Philadelphia showed no brotherly love.
Instead, the Eagles exploited a first-half injury to right tackle Mike Rosenthal and, with tight end Jim Kleinsasser out with a knee injury, exposed an offensive front that went into the game thin and got thinner early.
It resulted in Culpepper being rushed throughout the game and having to settle for short passes, taking the TNT out of an explosive offense. It resulted in the much ballyhooed matchup of Randy Moss vs. Terrell Owens basically going down as a stalemate. Owens caught four passes for 79 yards and a touchdown, and Moss had eight receptions for 69 yards and a touchdown. Culpepper finished 37 of 47 for 343 yards.
The Vikings took the opening kick and looked smooth as ever on offense. Onterrio Smith started with an 8-yard run, but Culpepper went to the air on five of the next six plays, picking up three first downs and connecting with Moss on two passes for 22 yards before the Vikings settled for a 42-yard field goal from Morten Andersen for a quick 3-0 lead.
While the Vikings used Moss on their opening drive, the Eagles stayed away from going to Owens. Instead, shifty running back Brian Westbrook was the workhorse. After Philadelphia started the drive with an 11-yard pass to fullback Jon Ritchie, the tailback (Westbrook) became the feature of the drive, touching the ball six times and making defenders miss. The key play, however, was a questionable defensive holding call on Antoine Winfield on third down, giving the Eagles new life on Minnesota's 32-yard line. Westbrook got the Eagles to the 11-yard line before Donovan McNabb hit tight end L.J. Smith for a touchdown and a 7-3 lead with 5:43 to play.
The Vikings responded with another sustained drive late in the first quarter and into the second quarter, and were aided by a key third-down defensive holding call on Roderick Hood that extended the drive after the Vikings dug a second-and-25 hole due to a false start and holding call. However, Culpepper spread the ball around, hitting Jermaine Wiggins for 19 and 12 yards, then giving Nate Burleson the ball for 9 yards and a first down on an end-around. Moss picked up the next first down with an 11-yard pass, and Smith finished the chain-moving with a 12-yard pickup to the 2-yard line on a quick screen pass. However, the Eagles defense rose up and stuffed Smith twice and Culpepper once, and the goal-line stand forced Andersen back into the game for a 19-yard field goal after 14 plays and 65 yards.
The Eagles extended their lead to 10-6 on their second drive of the game. McNabb started it with an 18-yard pass to Owens, then went to the Lewises — tight end Chad and wide receiver Greg. Chad caught consecutive passes of 10 and 15 yards to move across midfield, and Greg picked up the Eagles' last first down of the drive with a 5-yard reception before the Vikings defense clamped down and forced a 37-yard field goal by David Akers to give Philadelphia a 10-6 lead with 6:36 left in the first quarter
This time, the Vikings wouldn't answer. After three incompletions (and almost an interception on a ball thrown across the field), the Vikings gave way to the Eagles. But on his first play from scrimmage, Westbrook picked up the first down but was stripped by Brian Williams. Brian Russell recovered, and the Vikings had a chance to take the lead again.
It would get even more frustrating for the Vikings offense. Smith started with a fumble that Adam Haayer recovered, and the Vikings recovered from there. Moss converted a third down with a 10-yard grab and followed that with a second-down conversion with a 7-yard reception. On fourth-and-1 from the 20-yard line, Culpepper faked to Smith, bootlegged to his left and flipped a pass to Richard Owens for 19 yards to the 1-yard line. That last yard, however, would not be gained when, on the next play, Culpepper fumbled at the goal line and the Eagles recovered.
That half would end with the Vikings trailing 10-6, but the Eagles quickly added to their lead in the third quarter.
A 46-yard kickoff return by J.R. Reed set Philadelphia up in Vikings territory, and it took McNabb only five plays to cover 42 yards, the last 20 coming on a scramble for a touchdown with 11:22 to play in the third quarter.
The Eagles were scoring on their chances in Minnesota territory. The Vikings were only coming up with fumbles and field goals, and it didn't change on their first drive of the second half.
Culpepper drove the Vikings to 12-yard line on short passes while under pressure, but the storyline remained the same — no touchdowns in the red zone. It looked like Culpepper would reverse that trend when he took a quarterback draw into the end zone, but the play was called back when Matt Birk was flagged for holding. Andersen was called into duty again, hitting a 39-yard field goal and making it Eagles 17, Vikings 9.
The Vikings needed a defensive stop and needed to get their offense scoring touchdowns. The first one would happen, but once Culpepper drove the Vikings into the red zone with more short passes spread throughout the receiving corps, penalties killed the drive. Facing second-and-1 on the 14-yard line, Moss was flagged for offensive pass interference after pushing off on a throw to the end zone. On the next play, rookie tight end Jeff Dugan was flagged for a false start. To add the insult to not scoring a touchdown, the Vikings backed themselves up so far that Andersen's 44-yard field goal attempt fell short with 9:14 left in the fourth quarter.
The game was getting shorter, but Terrell Owens put it out of reach when, on the Eagles' fourth play of the ensuring drive, he "caught" a 45-yard bomb. Owens appeared to bobble the ball throughout his dive and until he lay out of bounds in the end zone, but the Vikings didn't challenge the ruling and found themselves trailing 24-9 with 7:40 to play.
Needing a desperation touchdown, Culpepper finally got it. He started the drive with a 20-yard pass to Burleson and a 13-yard run by Smith. On fourth-and-11, Culpepper hooked up with Burleson again for 17 yards. Five plays later, Culpepper found Moss for a 4-yard touchdown and the Vikings still had life while trailing 24-16.
With 3:32 to play, the Eagles still had a 24-16 lead, but their special teams put them in position to seal the win. J.R. Reed returned an Aaron Elling kickoff 43 yards to the Minnesota 42. After a first-down reception by Owens, the Eagles milked the clock and assured the victory with a 47-yard field goal by David Akers with 1:11 to play.
The Vikings wanted to end their road woes in big fashion under the lights in Philadelphia, but failure to capitalize when given touchdown opportunities ultimately cost them against a team that is one of the NFC favorites for the Super Bowl.
With a return to health by key players, Minnesota may have a postseason opportunity to improve against Philadelphia in a game that means even more. For now, they will be stuck looking at film of their blown opportunities.
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