Offense Runs Wild In 38-31 Shootout

Daunte Culpepper threw two interceptions, but that was the only thing stopping Culpepper and the Vikings' impressive offense Sunday night. Culpepper set numerous records en route to the Vikings gaining sole possession of first place in the NFC North.

The fireworks began from the first play and didn't let up the entire game. The Vikings' explosive offense was stopped only by two interceptions and a misfired shotgun snap, but those turnovers kept New Orleans in the game Sunday night at the Superdome.

When it had all sorted itself out, the Vikings (4-1) never trailed and never let up on their way to a 38-31 win over the Saints (2-4).

The Vikings did it without Randy Moss for more than a half. He left the game late in the first half with a pulled hamstring, but it didn't slow down Daunte Culpepper, who finished with 425 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions. He still caught Moss for two passes for 89 yards and a touchdown before the receiver left the game, but Culpepper also hooked up Nate Burleson with 134 yards, Mewelde Moore with 78, Jermaine Wiggins with 56 and two touchdowns, and Marcus Robinson with 32 and two touchdowns. Moore also added 109 yards on the ground and proved his all-around ability time and again.

Simply, the offense was only stopped when they stopped themselves, but the defense and special teams kept it interesting to the end. The defense gave up 249 yards passing to Aaron Brooks and 78 yards to running back Deuce McAllister, but they were put in a bad position twice, once on the bad snap that was returned to the 14-yard line and once by a fake punt that picked up 53 yards to the 19-yard line.

The first half was one of opportunity and explosiveness. The Vikings offense provided the explosiveness, but it also provided opportunity for New Orleans with two interceptions.

On the first drive of the game, the Vikings went from their own 12-yard line to the Saints' 14 on the heels of a 46-yard game-opening pass to Randy Moss and a 20-yard run by Mewelde Moore. But Culpepper forced a ball into the end zone on third down and Ashley Ambrose came away with the interception.

After Minnesota's defense shut down New Orleans on three plays, the explosion continued. Culpepper hit Nate Burleson for 36 yards on the second play of the second drive, then set up an outlet pass to Mewelde Moore for 13 yards. On third-and-9 at the 15-yard line, Culpepper scrambled and found Moe Williams for 13 yards. Facing first-and-goal, Culpepper saw Jermaine Wiggins wide open for a 7-0 Vikings lead with 7:53 to play in the first quarter.

On their following drive, New Orleans' offense came alive, with running back Deuce McAllister leading the way. He got the ball on the first four plays for 25 yards, then handled it four more times during the drive. But the Saints were getting first downs late in the drive following an illegal contact penalty and a defensive holding penalty. Then, facing second-and-goal at the 8-yard line, Antoine Winfield came down with the Vikings' first interception of the season and returned it 56 yards to the 39-yard line.

It took Culpepper only three plays to loft a beautiful corner bomb to Moss down the right sideline for a 43-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead one minute and three seconds after Winfield's interception, at 14:03 of the second quarter.

But on their next drive, the Vikings got both explosion and gave opportunity. The explosion came early, with passes of 36 yards to Burleson, 11 yards to Robinson and 17 yards to Wiggins, mixed in with a 19-yard run by Moore. But the opportunity came when Matt Birk snapped low and left with Culpepper in the shotgun. After a scrum, Jay Bellamy came away with the ball, lateraled to Ambrose and only Culpepper could catch him. Eventually, he did catch Ambrose at the 14-yard line, but three plays later, McAllister had a 2-yard touchdown to make it 14-7 with 6:29 to play in the first half.

But the scoring was far from over.

Culpepper found Kelly Campbell for 23 yards on the ensuing drive, but when Culpepper went deep for Moss again, the wide receiver strained a hamstring and fell down on the route. Fahkir Brown came down with the easy interception, Culpepper's second of the game after going four games with only one interception this season.

The Vikings defense clamped down, and the offense resumed their chain-moving ways. It needed only six plays to move it 65 yards, including a 14-yard run and 20-yard catch by Moore. On second-and-7 at the 16-yard line, Culpepper zipped a pass to Robinson in the end zone for 21-7 lead with 1:53 to play in the second quarter.

Still, the scoring wasn't done, as the Saints found holes throughout the Vikings secondary. Jerome Pathon got it started with a 36-yard reception, followed by a 13-yard run from McAllister. Donte Stallworth held on for an 18-yard catch to the 7-yard line before Joe Horn sealed the drive with a 7-yard reception. The Saints went 73 yards in four plays and one minute, 32 seconds. Just that quickly the Vikings' lead was down to a 21-14 at halftime.

Without Moss, the Vikings offense didn't miss a beat the rest of the second half. Robinson, Wiggins, Burleson and Moore continued to impress. Moore began by picking up 27 yards on an outlet pass. On the next play, Burleson found a seam in the middle for 17 yards, then Moore broke open over right guard for 10 yards. Three plays later, Culpepper scrambled and found Wiggins for his second touchdown catch of the game to put Minnesota ahead 28-14 with 10:48 to play in the third quarter.

The Saints answered as the game went into shootout mode, thanks to a risky call by New Orleans coach Jim Haslett. After a Kenechi Udeze 10-yard sack, the Saints completed a 14-yard pass to Jerome Pathon that brought up fourth-and-3 at their own 28-yard line. Instead of a punt, Haslett called for an extremely risky direct snap in punt formation to Fred McAfee, who got the corner on the right sideline and kept running until he was brought down by punt returner Burleson after 53 yards. From the 19-yard line, McAllister did the rest, taking five straight carries and finishing with a 1-yard touchdown plunge to draw the Saints within a touchdown at 28-21 at 6:13 of the third quarter.

Culpepper continued to sling it without Moss. Burleson was the first recipient with a 28-yard reception, and Wiggins corralled a third-down pass for 22 yards and another first down. But the drive stalled, the first time all game the Vikings had to call on their kicker or punter. Morten Andersen delivered a 39-yard field goal for a 31-21 lead with 2:26 left in the third.

The Saints offense was a little more hit-and-miss than the Vikings, but it picked up key plays when it needed them. Pathon delivered another long reception with a 25-yarder on the first play of the drive and got a 17-yarder in the middle of the drive on third down for another first down. But the drive stalled when Aaron Brooks scrambled for 14 yards and needed 15. John Carney was true on a 45-yard field goal, and the Saints were back within a touchdown while trailing 31-24 with 13:08 to play.

But the Vikings were not going to be stopped. They had only two more drives, but they scored the game-winning touchdown on the next drive and picked up the necessary first downs on the second one to kill the game.

Moore started the ensuring drive with runs of 6 and 5 yards and a catch for 5 more. He was spelled by Williams, who continued the carnage with runs of 6 and 2 yards. But when the Culpepper threw incomplete to Burleson on third down, Tebucky Jones may have cost the Saints the game when he launched his helmet into Culpepper's and drew a personal foul to keep the Vikings' drive alive on the 9-yard line. Williams ran again for 6 and 2 yards, but Robinson finished the deal with a 1-yard jump-ball touchdown grab for a 38-24 Vikings lead with 7:04 to play.

The Saints came back to score, but they used too much time with a nonchalant demeanor and underneath passes. By the time Brooks ran it in from 5 yards out to make it 38-31, there was only 2:51 left on the game clock.

New Orleans still had three timeouts, so the Vikings needed to pick up a few first downs. It got hairy to start, when Moore lost 2 yards after picking up 8. That made it third-and-4 on the 18-yard line. But Culpepper moved with his pocket to the right and hit Burleson for 11 yards. Two plays later, Williams sealed the win when he took a carry straight up the middle for 49 yards, and the Vikings killed the clock from there for a 38-31 win.

It wasn't an easy win, but the offense came easy and the touchdowns came often. After a Sunday night of running up and down the field — even with Moss sidelined for more than a half — the Vikings came away with a 4-1 record and sole possession of first place in the NFC North.

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