PASSING OFFENSE: A-minus — QB Daunte Culpepper is stuck in a rut. Yeah, the poor guy can't seem to go beyond five touchdown passes in a game. For the third time in five games, he threw for a career-high five scores, an NFL record for most five-touchdown games in a season. Culpepper threw four TDs in the red zone and was perfect on a 43-yard strike to Randy Moss in the back of the end zone against tight coverage on third-and-15. No quarterback in league history has thrown a more accurate deep ball than Culpepper. Moss pulled his hamstring late in the first half, returned before halftime but then sat out the second half. Moss' streak of playing in every game of his career (101) will be in jeopardy on Sunday against Tennessee. Without Moss, the Vikings still matched the Saints in points, 17-17, to win 38-31. Culpepper threw for a career-high 425 yards, completing 26 of 37 passes as the Vikings rolled up 605 yards of offense, a record for a Saints opponent. WR Nate Burleson caught six passes for 134 yards, while TE Jermaine Wiggins and WR Marcus Robinson caught two touchdown passes apiece. The only negative is Culpepper also threw two interceptions, including an ugly one that ended the first possession of the game. Culpepper tried to force the ball to Robinson, but it was picked off by CB Ashley Ambrose.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A — Rookie RB Mewelde Moore plays like a five-year veteran. He doesn't dance around. He can catch, break tackles and knows how to follow his blocks. In his second NFL start, Moore had his first 100-yard rushing game (109) on just 15 carries (7.3-yard average). He also caught a team-high seven passes for 78 yards. He has 19 catches in his last two games. Veteran Moe Williams was his usual steady self, returning from a calf injury after missing the Houston game. Williams touched the ball only seven times, but his 13-yard catch came on third-and-nine from the Saints' 15, setting up the Vikings' first score. Williams' last touch was a 49-yard burst up the middle that sealed the game. RB Michael Bennett, who hasn't played since the third preseason game because of a right knee injury, might be ready to play this week. Yeah, he's a former Pro Bowl player. But right now, the Vikings don't need him.
PASS DEFENSE: C — The interception drought is over. Finally. Antoine Winfield notched the team's first pick of the season, stepping in front of an Aaron Brooks pass at the Vikings' 6-yard line and returning the ball 56 yards. The potential 14-point swing gave the Vikings a 14-0 lead and was the key momentum shift in the game. Winfield is the team's best tackler, but he isn't known for making interceptions. Sunday's pick was only the seventh of his career. The Vikings need to play tighter coverage overall, especially at the end of the first half. The Vikings led 21-7 with 1:44 left in the second quarter and the Saints at their 27. Brooks keyed a four-play, 73-yard touchdown drive by completing 3 of 3 passes for 59 yards, including a 7-yard touchdown to Joe Horn.
RUSH DEFENSE: C — Even without Saints up-back Fred McAfee's 53-yard run on a fake punt, the Vikings gave up an average of 4.8 yards per carry and three rushing touchdowns. Deuce McAllister averaged 4.3 yards per carry and slammed into the end zone twice from inside the 3. Brooks ran three times for 25 yards (8.3) and scored on a five-yard run to close the gap to 38-31 with 2:51 left in the game.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D — McAfee caught the Vikings' already subpar special teams napping when he broke off a 53-yard run off right tackle on a fake punt on fourth-and-three from the New Orleans 28. The Saints scored five plays later to close within 28-21 with 6:13 left in the third quarter. The Vikings' special teams continue to be a weakness. The Vikings averaged only 16.2 yards on six kickoff returns and 5.5 yards on two punt returns. Punter Darren Bennett didn't play because the Vikings never punted.
COACHING: B — The Saints aren't going to be a playoff team this season, but that doesn't mean coach Mike Tice doesn't deserve credit. He notched a second consecutive road victory after snapping a six-game road losing streak the week before against Houston. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan orchestrated a sharp game plan that wasn't upset when Moss left the game for the entire second half because of a pulled right hamstring. Linehan worked TE Jermaine Wiggins back into the offense expertly. Wiggins, who hadn't played since Week 2 because of a broken left hand, caught five passes for 56 yards and two touchdowns. Defensively, the Vikings made some progress, but they're far from a finished product. The highlight was Winfield's interception. Winfield was able to jump the route and make an easy interception because defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell had alerted the defensive backs to a certain key that tipped off the play. Rusty Tillman's special teams continue to struggle. McAfee's 53-yard run off a fake punt was the kind of play that loses games. Fortunately for the Vikings, the offense was playing too well to lose the game.
Grading The Game: New Orleans Saints
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