The regular season home finale was supposed to have gone by a different script. It was Cris Carter's last home game as a member of the Vikings. It was the last game in front of the home fans and it was the last game against a team that isn't headed to the playoffs.
Instead, it was barely short of a nightmare. Jacksonville led the entire game and had an amazing 19 plays that gained 10 yards or more in a 33-3 humbling of the Vikings. It was something that wasn't lost on the players and coaches.
"I think the fans have a right to believe that when we play at home we'll win," Vikings coach Dennis Green said. "We have done that over seventy-something percent of the time, but that was not the case today."
The Jaguars never let the Vikings get close, scoring on every possession of the first half, beginning with the opening drive of the game. Starting from his own 29-yard line, it didn't take Mark Brunell long to change that. He connected on an 18-yard pass to Jimmy Smith that was fumbled but was unable to be reviewed because a whistle blew. On the next play Elvis Joseph broke off a 27-yard run and the Jags were at the Vikings 29-yard line. While the defense stopped Jacksonville from there, it was close enough for Mike Hollis to hit a 39-yard field goal to give the Jaguars a 3-0 lead.
The Vikings' first drive was a disaster. On the second play of the game, Todd Bouman had his hand hit by Tony Brackens and reinjured his thumb. His next pass was overthrown and he was forced to leave the game.
"It was very frustrating," Bouman told VU of the early exit. "You wait this long to play and then have something like this happen. But, that's part of the game."
The Jaguars had little problem in handling the Vikings defense on the second drive. Starting from his own 44, Brunell again came out passing. He hit Smith for 15 yards and, following a reverse of 18 yards to Damon Gibson, Stacey Mack ripped off a 20-yard run to the 3-yard line. One play later, Mack went into the end zone and the Jags had a 10-0 lead with 8:42 to play in the first quarter.
The Vikings tried to make a comeback behind new quarterback Spergon Wynn and were successful to some degree by spreading the ball around. Starting from his own 28, he completed passes of 18 yards to Cris Carter, an 8-yard loss on a batted pass to Michael Bennett, 12 yards to Byron Chamberlain, 12 yards on fourth down to Randy Moss and 1 yard to Jim Kleinsasser. He looked to add Jake Reed to the list when he completed a pass to the 13-yard line, but a holding call on Corbin Lacina was followed by a 10-yard sack by Brackens to force a punt.
The Jaguars refused to miss a beat. With the ball on his own 20, Brunell completed a 17-yard pass to Kyle Brady. After a 7-yard run by Mack, Brunell and Smith combined for 34 yards to the Vikings 22. Mack kept the clock and the chains moving with runs of 3 and 9 yards, but the Vikings defense again kept the Jags out of the end zone. Much of the credit should have gone to Brady dropping a sure touchdown, but the Jaguars again settled for a 23-yard field goal to give them a 13-0 lead with 11:15 to play in the half.
The lead would continue to balloon after the Vikings went out quietly on their next drive. Starting from his own 45, Brunell threw a 29-yard screen to Joseph, and Mack took carries of 9 and 6 yards to the Vikings 11. As if on cue, after giving up big chunks of yardage, the Vikings defense slammed the door in close, making the Jaguars settle for a for a 21-yard Hollis field goal to open a 16-0 lead with 4:54 to play in the half.
"We didn't stop them in the first half," Green told VU. "If the other team is going to score every time they have the ball in the first half, that makes things more difficult. We weren't scoring and they were."
The Vikings would change that before halftime. Starting from his own 24, Wynn completed a 9-yard pass to Chamberlain before having a first down converted by a personal foul for roughing the quarterback on Hardy Nickerson. Wynn stayed in the air, connecting with Kleinsasser for 2 yards, Chamberlain for 6 and Carter for 16 on consecutive passes. After a couple of incompletions, Wynn completed passes of 14 yards to Harold Morrow, 6 yards to Chamberlain and 5 yards to Carter to get the ball to the 10-yard line. An 18-yard intentional grounding penalty killed the drive, but after a 14-yard pass to Chamberlain, Gary Anderson kicked a 32-yard field goal as time expired to cut the deficit to 16-3 at the half.
The Vikings got something of a moral victory on the Jags' opening drive of the second half, forcing Jacksonville to a three-and-out and its first punt of the game. However, the Vikings fared little better, punting on their first two possessions and leaving the Jags with the ball on their own 15.
The Jaguars got back on track with their next drive, as Brunell converted a first down with an 8-yard pass to Keenan McCardell, and Joseph followed that up with a 15-yard run to the 41-yard line. The yardage then came in chunks, as Brunell completed a 15-yard pass to Smith, 10 more to Smith, 13 yards to Brady and 11 yards to Smith to get to the Vikings 6-yard line. Two plays later, Brunell found McCardell open up in the middle and hit him for a 10-yard touchdown — and the Jags lead was now 23-3.
Things went from bad to worse for the Vikings as the game moved to the fourth quarter. Following a 20-yard pass to Carter, Wynn was stripped of the ball by Gary Walker, who recovered the loose ball on the Vikings 18. Although Jacksonville wasn't able to convert the turnover into a touchdown, it was enough to get Hollis in range for another field goal — this of 21 yards — to up the Jags lead to 26-3 with 12:09 to play.
The Vikings' woes continued, as they were able to hold the ball for just three minutes before kicking back to the Jaguars. In what would prove to be Jacksonville's last sustained drive, it was reminiscent of so many of those that preceded it — it gained a lot of yards in big pieces and ended with a score.
Starting from the 16, Mack took carries of 2 and 5 yards before Brunell zipped a 13-yard pass to Smith for a first down. After that, Joseph took a carry 5 yards before Mack broke off an 18-yard scamper for another first down. The pair would strike again, as Mack ran a sweep 7 yards and Joseph broke the long one — this time 22 yards up the middle to the Vikings 10. From there, it was all Mack, who took carries of 6, 2 and 2 yards to close out the drive and give the Jaguars a 33-3 lead with 2:12 to play.
The Vikings tried to mount a drive on the final series and get Carter a touchdown in what is likely his final home game as a Viking. Wynn came out throwing, hitting Carter for 9 yards and Chamberlain for 6 more before an 11-yard scramble picked up a first down near midfield. Wynn kept the drive going with passes of 10 yards to Morrow and 17 yards to Carter. After a roughing-the-passer penalty got the ball to the 14-yard line, Wynn looked for Carter in the end zone. However, his pass was intercepted by safety Marlon McCree. With that, the game ended, the home season ended and, in all likelihood, Cris Carter's career as a Viking at the Metrodome ended.
"It would have been nice to have it end differently," Carter said. "But this is a game I love and it won't change how I feel about the fans here and this team."
However, it was an ugly way to finish his home career as a Viking — the second largest home defeat in Metrodome history. But it seems like it's all par for the course in a season that has seen many more downs than ups for the Vikings. VU
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