Grading The Game: Lions
PASSING OFFENSE: A — For the first time since he strained his right hamstring two months ago, Randy Moss is back. He proved it Sunday by running past three Lions defenders to pull in an 82-yard touchdown from Daunte Culpepper that gave the Vikings a 14-3 lead early in the second quarter. WR Nate Burleson contributed his first multi-touchdown game, catching scores of 36 and 37 yards. Culpepper threw for 404 yards and three touchdowns on 25-for-35 passing. And the Vikings were able to do all of this with LT Bryant McKinnie out for most of the last three quarters because of back spasms. Rookie OL Nat Dorsey played in McKinnie's place. The Vikings gave up five sacks.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B — Michael Bennett got his first start in four games and wasn't spectacular. But he ran hard for 51 yards on 13 carries (3.9). Onterrio Smith was a non-factor, running four times for six yards before a bruised elbow and Bennett's steady performance shut him down for the day. The best run of the season, however, was Moe Williams' 11-yard touchdown run on third-and-two with 1:37 left in the game. Williams ran over S Brock Marion inside the 5 and plowed into the end zone for the touchdown.
PASS DEFENSE: D — The only things keeping this from an F-minus are two second-half interceptions by Corey Chavous and Brian Williams. Other than that, the pass defense was atrocious. Lions QB Joey Harrington, who threw for 47 yards in a loss to the Packers a week earlier, passed for a career-high 361 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns. With no timeouts, he moved the Lions 80 yards in nine plays in the final 1:37. The game would have gone into overtime, but Lions long snapper Don Muhlbach botched a snap on an aborted extra point with eight seconds left in the game. CB Antoine Winfield (ankle) didn't play for the second consecutive game. Derek Ross was forced to play nickel back again and once again made costly errors. His holding penalty away from the play gave the Lions a second crack at a two-point conversion in the fourth quarter, which they capitalized on. Ross also was called for interference on Roy Williams in the end zone with 17 seconds left. The Lions scored from the 1 on the next play. Brian Williams also gave up a number of big catches.
RUSH DEFENSE: C — The Lions ran for more than 100 yards in the first half of the teams' previous meeting. The Vikings were determined not to let that happen again, so they loaded up to stop the run. The Lions finished with a solid 4.5-yard average per carry (25-113), but it was an acceptable performance from the run defense. Kevin Jones had 79 yards on 19 carries. But he did score from 16 yards.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B — From now on, every time we rip the Vikings' special teams we'll think of Don Muhlbach and The Snap. With the Lions trailing 28-27 with eight seconds left, Muhlbach bounced his snap to holder Nick Harris. Harris had bailed Muhlbach out on a bad snap earlier in the game. But this snap was so terrible, poor Harris had no chance. Vikings CB Terrance Shaw got to Harris and tackled him before Harris was able to recover and at least attempt what would have been a game-winning two-point conversion. The Vikings got some solid punt returns from Mewelde Moore, who took over for Nate Burleson, who needed a break from the extra pounding of returning punts. Moore averaged nine yards on three returns with a long of 17. The kickoff returns was below average (18.8 average on five attempts), but the kickoff coverage (20.8 on four) was acceptable.
COACHING: C — It's hard to get excited about a win at Detroit that came down to a botched extra-point snap by the Lions. The defense still has major issues to resolve. If Joey Harrington can throw for 361 yards and march 80 yards for a touchdown in the final 1:37 with no timeouts, something is seriously wrong. Offensively, the Vikings are starting to look like they did early in the season when Moss was healthy. Coordinator Scott Linehan, who was savaged nationally for calling the ill-fated reverse option pass that resulted in a crippling interception late in the Seattle game, called a good game Sunday. The game-winning 10-play, 83-yard touchdown drive was well-orchestrated and executed. Until the Vikings can learn to put teams away with their defense, this isn't a team that will achieve its first goal — an NFC North title — or certainly its second goal — a Super Bowl title.
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