Defensive Stands Aren't Enough

Kailee Wong and the defense made a number of goal-line stands to force field goals, but that wasn't enough with an offense that just couldn't score.

It seems that Monday's 19-3 loss to the Ravens was a fitting conclusion to the 2001 season — a year in which the Vikings lost all eight road games, gave Carolina its only win of the season and yielded the only win Detroit had in the 2001 calendar year. The result was an offensive performance that was truly offensive and a sad ending to a year that began with tragedy and ended with sorrow.

The Vikings defense couldn't be blamed for the loss, since it was solid much of the night, especially when it had to be. Starting with the first drive of the game, the Vikings forced the Ravens into a three-and-out, but the offense quickly matched with a nonexistent drive of its own. After a penalty allowed Baltimore its initial first down of the game, the Vikings defense again made a stop, forcing a punt and letting the Vikings build the first sustained drive of the game.

Starting from the 38-yard line, the Vikings converted a first down with runs of 4 yards by Michael Bennett and 4 and 2 yards by Harold Morrow. On the next play, Randy Moss took a reverse and threw a 29-yard strike to Cris Carter and, on the next play, Spergon Wynn completed a 15-yard pass to Carter to the Ravens 8-yard line. From there, the drive stalled.

Bennett took a sweep 1 yard, Wynn threw a pass for Moss in the end zone 10 yards out of bounds and he was brought down by Peter Boulware on a third-down scramble for no gain, forcing the Vikings to settle for a 26-yard Gary Anderson field goal to take a 3-0 lead with 5:50 to play in the first quarter.

The Ravens responded immediately with a drive of their own featuring a cavalcade of former Vikings. Starting from the 20-yard line, Terry Allen got things going with a 7-yard run before Elvis Grbac hit Qadry Ismail for 20 yards to near midfield. After a 4-yard run by receiver Jermaine Lewis, Allen had runs of 5 and 21 yards to the red zone. Moe Williams was next with runs of 1 and 10 yards before Obafemi Ayanbadejo had an 8-yard run. However, facing a third-and-1 from the 3-yard line, Jason Brookins was stacked up for no gain and, on the first play of the second quarter, Brian Billick settled for a 21-yard Matt Stover field goal to tie the game 3-3.

After an exchange of punts, the Vikings were again in good field position on their own 32. Following an 8-yard pass to Moss, Carter took a short pass for a first down, but, as he stretched forward, the ball was punched out by Duane Starks and veteran Rod Woodson recovered to give the Ravens the ball on the Minnesota 45-yard line.

The Ravens would take advantage of the opportunity. Allen opened the drive with a 16-yard run, which was followed by runs of 4, 7 and 4 yards by Brookins and 11 yards by Williams to get the ball to the 3-yard line — setting up one of the best defensive stands in recent Vikings memory.

After stuffing Allen on first down, Brookins took a run 1 yard to the 2-yard line. On third down, Grbac threw a pass that was uncatchable out of the end zone, but a pass interference call was made on Orlando Thomas to keep the drive alive. After an incompletion on first down, Brookins took two carries up the middle — only to be stuffed by Winfield Garnett on one play and Kailee Wong on the next. Facing a fourth down from the 1, Billick again settled for a 20-yard field goal from Stover to give the Ravens a 6-3 lead with 6:29 to play in the half.

The Vikings looked for a counter-punch and got a pair of first downs on a 17-yard run by Michael Bennett and a 9-yard pass to Jake Reed, but the drive stalled near midfield and resulted in a punt. The Ravens seemed content to run the clock out following a 15-yard sack by Chris Hovan, but a low snap was fumbled by punter Kyle Richardson and he fell on the ball on the 10-yard line with 1:05 to play in the half.

However, the Vikings failed to take advantage of the situation. On the next play, Wynn threw a fade pass for Moss that died in the wind and was intercepted by Chris McAlister to turn the ball over. The Ravens made the most of the gift, as Grbac completed a short pass to Brandon Stokley that, several missed tackles later, turned into a 46-yard gain to the Vikings 27. With no time outs left, Grbac completed a pair of short sideline passes and, as time expired, Stover hit a 38-yard field goal to give the Ravens a 9-3 halftime lead.

The second half began with promise, as the kickoff went out of bounds and runs of 8 and 11 yards by Bennett got the Vikings into Ravens territory. However, the drive died and the Vikings had to punt.

The defenses ruled early, as an exchange of punts left the Ravens on their own 13-yard line, but a big play again led to points. Grbac completed a pair of passes to Shannon Sharpe of 37 and 14 yards to get the ball to the Vikings 36. Runs of 6 yards by Williams and 3 and 16 yards by Allen followed. When Grbac threw a 9-yard pass to Williams to set up a third-and-1 at the Vikings 2, it was time for the Vikings defense to again make a stand. Hovan stuffed Allen again, and Baltimore got another 20-yard field goal from Stover to take a 12-3 lead with 3:52 to play in the third quarter — which many believed would be enough for the Ravens defense.

After an exchange of punts sent the game to the fourth quarter, the Vikings tried to rally the troops one more time. Wynn converted a first down into Ravens territory with passes of 9 yards to Bennett and 5 yards to Byron Chamberlain, but a big miscue would follow. Attempting a hook-and-lateral, Carter caught a pass on the 40-yard line and threw the ball to Doug Chapman, who took it to the 28. However, it was a forward lateral and resulted in a loss of down and a punt.

The Ravens began working the clock, as a 23-yard run by Allen moved the ball from the 12- to the 35-yard line, and a 7-yard third-down screen to Williams got another first down. Even though the drive stalled at midfield, the Ravens had eaten 3:30 off the clock and were less than nine minutes from the playoffs.

The Vikings tried to get its offense untracked, but Wynn looked out of his element. After getting first downs on a 12-yard pass to Chamberlain and a 13-yard scramble, he threw three of the ugliest successive passes of the season. The first was a bomb for Moss that sailed 10 yards over his head. The next was a pass for Andrew Jordan, who was wide open over the middle, but again the pass was 10 yards too deep. On third down, he overthrew Reed and the pass was picked off by Corey Harris to turn the ball back to the Ravens.

With just 6:26 to play, it was expected that Baltimore would just run the clock, since the Vikings had been forced to burn all three of their time outs. But Billick wanted points. He called four passes on the next five plays and three were incomplete — stopping the clock. After running less than two minutes off the clock, the Ravens punted.

The Vikings seemed content to let the Ravens have the win. After a 5-yard pass to Carter, a 4-yard sack by Boulware left the Vikings facing fourth-and-9 from their own 44. Needing two scores and having no times outs, interim coach Mike Tice showed no faith in his offense, opting to punt with 3:20 to play.

The Ravens obliged with a pair of runs to get the clock to the 2-minute warning, but threw an incompletion on third down to stop the clock and give the Vikings faint hope. That would end on the next play.

Dropping to pass, Wynn was hit from behind by Boulware and fumbled. The loose ball was scooped up by Jamie Sharper and returned 8 yards for a touchdown to give the Ravens a 19-3 lead — and the only touchdown of the game.

Content to simply stop the bleeding, the Vikings ran the final 1:37 off the clock and ended the season with four consecutive losses to bring the season total to 11. That was the bad news.

The good news is that they can draft no worse than seventh in next year's college draft, but considering that this was Carter's last game with the Vikings and quite possibly the last game for several other players, it was a sad ending — a year that went out with a whimper, not a bang. VU

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