PASSING OFFENSE: A-minus — For the second time in four games, QB Daunte Culpepper threw a career-high five touchdown passes. He is the hottest quarterback and most precise passer in the league (yeah, that includes Peyton Manning) with 13 touchdown passes and one interception. WR Marcus Robinson caught nine passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns. He bounced back from dropping what should have been a game-winning touchdown by catching the 50-yard game-winner on the second possession of overtime. WR Randy Moss also caught two TDs, including a 50-yarder in the fourth quarter. RB Mewelde Moore had 12 catches. The only negatives were the pass protection and Robinson's drop. Culpepper was sacked three times and pressured often.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B — Down to their fourth-string running back, the Vikings didn't flinch as they turned the ground game over to the rookie Mewelde Moore, a fourth-round draft pick from Tulane. Moore's ball protection was excellent, his shiftiness above average and his ability to break tackles a pleasant surprise. He had 92 yards rushing on 20 carries and caught 12 passes for 90 yards. A negative that could have cost the Vikings the game was their inability to run the ball and drain the clock in the fourth quarter. Three straight three-and-outs enabled the Texans to come back from a 21-0 deficit.
PASS DEFENSE: D — The Vikings' pass defense lived up to its No. 30 ranking while allowing Texans QB David Carr to pass for 288 yards and three touchdowns in the second half and overtime. Texans WR Andre Johnson was the best receiver on the field with 12 catches for 170 yards and two touchdowns. For some strange reason, the Vikings kept allowing the Texans to put Johnson in situations where he was covered by backup cornerback Terrance Shaw. On a positive note, the Vikings' defensive line had four sacks, including a combined third-down sack by DTs Chris Hovan and Steve Martin that forced the Texans to punt and led to the Vikings' game-winning score in overtime.
RUSH DEFENSE: A — The Texans ran the ball only 17 times for a 3.1-yard average. Only 14 of those runs were called, and those plays averaged 2.2 yards. Moving Steve Martin into the base defense at nose tackle, shifting Kevin Williams to the under tackle position and pulling Chris Hovan was a good move. Martin was credited with five tackles, equaling Hovan's three-game total going into the game.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C-minus — It was a hair below average but still the Vikings' best special teams effort of the season. K Aaron Elling reached the end zone on two of his five kickoffs. P Darren Bennett finally turned some punts over for extra distance. And WR Nate Burleson filled in well on punt returns and kickoff returns after WR Keenan Howry injured his shoulder. Burleson averaged 25.5 yards on two kickoff returns. Bennett had a hand in keeping the Texans from winning the game in regulation. He had three punts of more than 50 yards in the last three minutes. He nailed back-to-back 52-yarders from the Vikings' 10- and 5-yard lines. The first was negated by a penalty. He also hit a 47-yarder in overtime.
COACHING: B — Coach Mike Tice and defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell were close to having a real stinker end up on their résumés. Cruising 21-0 in the third quarter, the Vikings collapsed defensively in a way that was similar to the 2003 season finale at Arizona. The difference this time is the Vikings won, and they did it while relying on several backups. They had a rookie right offensive tackle (Nat Dorsey) making his first NFL start. Their weakside linebacker (Raonall Smith) was making his first NFL start after seeing no action on defense since he was drafted in the second round in 2002. Rookie Dontarrious Thomas started at middle linebacker for the first time since he was at Auburn. Another rookie, Mewelde Moore, a fourth-string running back, not only started but had 182 yards from scrimmage and 12 catches. And backup C Cory Withrow played all but the final three snaps before limping off with a knee injury. C Matt Birk, who has a sprained ankle, limped onto the field for three plays. Despite it all, the Vikings are 3-1 and tied with Detroit atop the NFC North. One thing the coaches need to address is dumb penalties and false starts. They had six false starts, including three by Dorsey. Another rookie, Rod Davis, drew penalties of 15 yards for running over a punt returner who had called a fair catch and 5 yards for being downfield illegally on a 52-yard punt late in the fourth quarter. WR Kelly Campbell and QB Daunte Culpepper also were penalized for excessive celebration following a touchdown. Campbell, who was injured at the time, ran onto the field from the sideline to celebrate.
Grading The Game: Texans
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