All the hype entering Monday night's madness in Indianapolis focused on quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Daunte Culpepper. For one half at least, both teams looked focused on running the ball.
But when putting points on the board became necessary to win, eventually both the Colts and Vikings went to their strengths — passing the ball. It created a wild second half in which the Colts surrendered a 14-6 lead, allowing the Vikings to tie them three times in the second half. Still, the Vikings never did get the lead themselves and eventually fell 31-28 on a last-second field goal.
Both quarterbacks lived up to the accolades with solid performances. Manning continued his chase toward the single-season record for touchdown passes with four more against the Vikings on his way to completing 23 of 29 for 268 yards and a passer rating of 144.8. He is on pace to throw 52 touchdowns this season. Meanwhile, with star wide receiver Randy Moss staying back in Minneapolis because of a hamstring injury, Culpepper didn't match the glitter of Manning's stat line, but he managed an efficient game while completing 16 of 19 for 169 yards, a touchdown and a 121.3 rating.
Despite all the offensive fireworks, there were no turnovers for either team, which allowed Indianapolis to always have either the lead or the ball in hand.
That advantage allowed them to put the final points on the board, a 35-yard field goal from Mike Vanderjagt with two seconds left to seal the win. The loss moved the Vikings to 5-3, while Indianapolis improved to 5-3.
The game couldn't have started much worse for the Vikings. On the first snap of the game, the exchanged was botched between center Matt Birk and Culpepper. After the ball was kicked around, Bryant McKinnie finally recovered it for a 28-yard loss. The whole debacle set up the Colts on their own 49-yard line after the Vikings punted away.
Colts running back Edgerrin James carried the load, taking the first five plays for runs of 9, 15, 9, 4 and minus-1 yards to get the ball to the 15-yard line. The Vikings had Indianapolis stopped on third-and-1 from the 5-yard line, but the Colts went for the touchdown on fourth down, and Manning hit Reggie Wayne for the 5-yard score and a 7-0 lead less than six minutes into the game.
The Vikings were determined to run the ball, too, and Onterrio Smith took the first four carries before a third-down incompletion brought on the punting team again.
This time, the Colts mixed the run and pass, but James still took the main workload to open the drive. He touched the ball three of the first four plays for 19 yards and picked up another first down two plays later. When Marvin Harrison got involved with a 16-yard reception, the Colts were across midfield. They used a personal foul facemask on Brian Williams to advance to the 12-yard line, and, one play later, Manning found tight end Marcus Pollard in the flats for a 9-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead six seconds into the second quarter.
From there, the Vikings worked their way back into the game, thanks to big special teams play.
It started with a 51-yard punt return from Kelly Campbell that had 15 yards tacked on with a late hit from punter Hunter Smith. That set up a 42-yard field goal from Morten Andersen.
The Vikings defense then sustained an 11-play drive from the Colts that resulted in a punt after a 3-yard sack by Kevin Williams.
With 5:16 to play in the half, the offensive philosophy changed from a heavy dose of running plays to a passing mentality. The big play came on third-and-11 from the 19-yard line when Culpepper found Campbell for a 30-yard pass. After that, the offense started to click but never had an urgent mentality. Culpepper scrambled for 8 yards and then found Marcus Robinson for a 13-yard pass and another first down. After a 12-yard Moe Williams run, a spike and an incompletion, Williams caught a 12-yard pass underneath the coverage, but that forced the Vikings to take their final timeout and call for the field goal unit. Andersen delivered a 23-yarder to make it a one-possession game for the Vikings, trailing 14-6 at halftime.
The defense did its job on the Colts' opening drive of the second half, forcing a punt after allowing one first down. But on the punt, Campbell nearly blocked it and Nate Burleson fielded the line drive at the 9-yard line. After shimmying his way through the first line of defense, Burleson needed to beat punter Smith and did, taking it 91 yards for the second-longest punt return in Vikings history and making it 14-12. When Culpepper ran in the two-point conversion, the Vikings had completed their comeback to tie the score at 14 with 10:49 to play in the third quarter.
But two possessions later the Colts got another go-ahead touchdown. The big play — a 41-yard pass to Harrison — started the drive, and tight end Dallas Clark did most of the rest. He beat Mike Nattiel for a 26-yard pass play and, one play later, scored on a threaded 4-yard pass from Manning into tight coverage for a touchdown and a 21-14 lead with 2:07 to play in the third quarter.
The Vikings were looking for an answering drive, and they got it thanks to two key third-down conversions. Jermaine Wiggins started the drive with two receptions for 25 yards, but a holding call on Matt Birk put the Vikings in a bind at second-and-16 at midfield. After a 5-yard Bennett run, Wiggins delivered the chain-mover with an 18-yard reception on third down. Onterrio Smith exploded through the defense for 19 yards, setting up first-and-goal on the 10-yard line. The Vikings went back to Smith on the next play for no gain and then flipped a pass to Moe Williams for 2 yards. On third down, Culpepper fired a bullet to Burleson at the goal line to tie the game at 21-21 with 11:27 to play.
As the passing offenses started to heat up, so did the scoreboard. Indianapolis' next drive should have been dubbed the James drive. The Colts running back caught, in succession, a 12-yard pass, ran for 1 and 14 yards, caught a 6-yard pass, then ran for 6 and 12 yards before getting a breather. One play later, Manning found Pollard at the goal line for a 19-yard touchdown to regain a 28-21 lead with 7:24 to play.
Following the theme of the second half, the Vikings fired right back. Smith got the initial first down of the drive with an 8-yard catch and a 3-yard run, but the Vikings would need extra work to keep the drive going. On third-and-8, Robinson came up a yard short at the Colts 43-yard line. The Vikings were forced to use their second timeout, following which Culpepper executed a bootleg on fourth-and-1 to perfection, sprinting right for 9 yards. He scrambled up the middle for 10 yards on the next play and the Vikings were sitting on the 24-yard line with 3:02 to play. They may have been looking to milk the clock when Culpepper handed off to Smith, but the running back broke through the initial penetration and dove into the end zone to tie the game 28-28 with 2:54 to play.
That was easily enough time for Manning, and the defense helped him move into scoring position on the game-winning drive. He started with a 17-yard pass to James, then scrambled for 15 yards, and when Lance Johnstone brought down a forearm to Manning after the QB went into his slide, it meant another 15 yards for the Colts. That moved them into scoring position at the 26-yard line. Two more James runs brought on third-and-5 just after the two-minute warning, and Manning made the play of the game. With Keith Newman right in Manning's face, the quarterback switched the ball to his left hand and flipped a shovel pass to James, who broke a tackle attempt by Kevin Williams and slipped the needed 6 yards for a first down. With the Vikings out of timeouts, the Colts took a knee twice before Mike Vanderjagt's 36-yard field gave Indianapolis a 31-28 win.
Many predicted this to be shootout, and in the second half those predictions came true. In this case, it was literally the last team to possess the ball with time on the clock that won.
The Vikings overcame early foibles and tied the game in the second half, but eventually it was the Vikings that ran out of time or possessions and fell in a disappointing shootout on the road.
Manning, Colts Outduel Vikings, 31-28
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