So many subplots, so many reasons for motivation despite being eliminated from the playoffs. That was the scenario Monday night as the Vikings faced the Ravens in Baltimore.
Playing against their former offensive coordinator in Brian Billick. Playing against numerous former teammates now on the Ravens offense. Playing on Monday Night Football. Playing for contracts next season. Playing for interim head coach Mike Tice.
Without a doubt, the Vikings really could have used a good game of playing good football after such a rough season.
While the offense couldn't move the ball enough behind third-string quarterback Spergon Wynn, who looked overmatched in his second straight start, and the defense yielded plenty of big runs, the Vikings' goal-line defense was tremendous against Baltimore's more conservative offense. On two series, the Ravens had first-and-goal from the 3-yard line or closer and failed to score a touchdown. On another two series, they had third-and-1 inside the 5-yard line and had to settle for a field goal.
That totaled four field goals for the Ravens in the first three quarters, and 12 was exactly the number of points they had with one quarter to play — but it was also enough for a 12-3 lead against a Vikings offense without synchronicity and an eventual 19-3 win.
The Vikings finish the season at 5-11, and the Ravens made the playoffs.
The biggest problems for the Vikings in their final game of the season? Despite playing well at the goal line, the defense gave up 133 yards to Terry Allen on 23 carries, 49 yards to Moe Williams on seven carries, and 212 yards rushing to the Ravens on 42 carries. And Wynn had another miserable game, throwing for only 86 yards, two interceptions and a 23.2 passer rating
Tice got his chance to shine under the glow of the national spotlight, and on the Vikings' first successful drive he previewed what will likely be a difference between Dennis Green and whoever takes over the head coaching reins. After picking up the team's initial first down on three running plays, Tice got Moss and Carter involved for the first time in the game. Moss took the ball on a reverse and pulled up for a 25-yard pass to Carter. Spergon Wynn hit Carter on the next play for 15 yards, and the Vikings were in goal-to-go territory. However, two runs for 1 yard and an incomplete pass brought on Gary Anderson for a 26-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead with 9:10 into the game.
Turns out, that would be their only lead of the game … and their only points of the game.
The Ravens and Billick quickly answered by exposing Minnesota's run defense. Allen started with two runs, then Qadry Ismail caught his second pass of the game, this for 20 yards. Allen resumed his duties with runs of 5 and 21 yards before Moe Williams ran for 10 and 2 yards. However, mixed in was a controversial call, where the officials signaled a first down on Williams' first run, but the chain crew didn't move the chains, leading Billick to believe he needed a short-yardage play. However, after Williams ran for 2 yards, the officials informed the crowd at PSINet Stadium that it was second down and Billick's attempts to challenge the call were denied. The Ravens ended up settling for a 21-yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter despite needing only inches for a first down at the 3-yard line.
The teams exchanged possessions, but on the Vikings' second possession of the second quarter, Carter fumbled the ball after fighting for a first down and the Ravens recovered for their best starting position of the game at the Vikings' 45-yard line. It was nothing fancy for the Ravens, as they obviously felt they could expose the run defense and did it efficiently. Between Allen, Brookins and Williams, the Ravens ran the ball seven straight times to start the drive and muscled it down to the 3-yard line.
But after facing third-and-goal at the 2-yard line, Orlando Thomas was flagged for pass interference in the end zone while covering Williams, giving Baltimore a new set of downs on the 1-yard line. However, the Minnesota defense played the run stoutly on two downs after a first-down incompletion, forcing Stover on for a 20-yard field and a 6-3 Ravens lead with 6:29 left in the first half.
After taking a sack on the first play of the ensuing drive, the Vikings finally got some offense going. Michael Bennett converted a first down with a 17-yard run, and Jake Reed picked up a second with a 9-yard catch. While they couldn't pick up another first down or pass midfield, after a punt they had the Ravens pinned at their own 12-yard line.
While the defense allowed one first down, a Chris Hovan sack of 15 yards forced a punt, one that produced a low snap, which forced punter Kyle Richardson to fall on the ball at the 10-yard line, where the Vikings took over.
But the opportunity was quickly lost. Wynn threw a floater into the end zone on first down, one that hung in the air, and Chris McAlister intercepted with a minute left in the half. One explosive play, a 46-yard pass to Brandon Stokely on third down, put the Ravens in position for their third field goal of the game, this one a 38-yarder as the first half expired to give Baltimore a 9-3 lead.
The second half was more of the same … well, a little more maybe — as in one more field goal from Baltimore, meaning Wynn's interception on first down in the end zone toward the end of the first half, which not only kept the Vikings from scoring but allowed the Ravens to add three points before halftime, was at least a six-point swing and maybe as many as 10. It could have made a difference in the outcome in this low-scoring match. But, like has been written time and time again, that is just how most of the season went for the Vikings.
Despite a strong showing from the defense that continued through all of the second half, the Ravens got a final field goal toward the end of the third quarter to take a 12-3 lead before capping the game with a touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
But even that wasn't given up by the defense, as linebacker Peter Boulware beat Brad Badger for Boulware's fourth sack of the game and a forced fumble, and Jamie Sharper picked up the loose ball and returned it 8 yards for a touchdown with 1:37 left in the game. It left the score at the 19-3 final and ended Tice's first game as an NFL head coach.
It also almost surely ended Carter's career as a Vikings wide receiver, as he repeatedly referred to the Vikings after the game as "they."
It will also mark the beginning of intriguing offseason, when owner Red McCombs will have to decide on a new coaching staff and management will have to decide which players stay, which go and which are drafted and acquired before the NFL starts its new alignment in the 2002 season.
So many subplots, so many reasons to follow the offseason development of the 2002 Vikings.
Finale Ends With Loss
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