Turning Point: Offensive Line Replacements

The Vikings entered the game with injury problems on the offensive line, and things got worse when David Dixon went down with a sprained knee. Still, the offensive line substitutes led the way as the Vikings took the lead for good in two drives surrounding halftime.

At every point in a season, there becomes a defining moment that makes or breaks a season. It would have been easy for the Vikings to start questioning themselves when their offensive line began to fall apart.

With starting right tackle Mike Rosenthal and key blocking tight end Jim Kleinsasser gone for the year and Matt Birk and Nat Dorsey out with injuries, the Vikings were hitting the bottom of their depth chart trailing 13-10 with 1:09 to play in the first half Sunday against Jacksonville. But the replacement players were forced to suck it up and lead the way to a critical turning point of the game.

The offensive line for much of the game consisted of Bryant McKinnie, Chris Liwienski, Cory Withrow (starting for a month in place of Matt Birk, who had hernia surgery Friday), Adam Haayer (who replaced David Dixon when he sprained his knee) and Adam Goldberg (who replaced on Nat Dorsey, who suffered a sprained shoulder against Detroit). But on the final drive of the first half, that offensive line gave Daunte Culpepper enough protection to complete six straight passes to four different receivers to get into field goal range for Morten Andersen to hammer a 33-yard field goal as time expired. That tied the game 13-13.

Getting the ball to start the second half, the line gave Culpepper time to check off his primary targets and find Jermaine Wiggins for 17 yards on a critical third-and-12 play to keep the drive alive. From there, the Vikings pounded the ball down the Jaguars' throat. Onterrio Smith ran the ball seven times behind the patchwork line, Culpepper kept the ball twice on his own, and, when the Jags stacked up the middle to stop the run, he was able to find Randy Moss for a 2-yard touchdown.

In a span of more than 30 minutes of actual time, the Jaguars offense was not on the field. The last time Byron Leftwich and Co. were on the field, Jacksonville had a 13-10 lead. By the time it returned to the field for the first time in the second half, it trailed 20-13 and never was able to recover.

For an unheralded group of backups and replacement players, the Vikings' offensive line spearheaded the two drives — which totaled 23 plays without Jacksonville running a play — and improved the Vikings to 7-4 atop the NFC North.

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