Game 16: Highlights, Lowlights and Notes

The Vikings needed help to get into the playoffs and got it. But they might not have needed help if they hadn't dropped key passes and committed a few penalties on would-be touchdown plays. Through it all, they got great performances from Daunte Culpepper and Kevin Williams. Get those notes and more in our final regular-season edition of "Highlights, Lowlights and Notes."


Why are we leading off a Vikings game notebook with a summary of the New Orleans-Carolina game? Because the Vikings couldn't do the job themselves and needed help in their playoff push.

If the Vikings had beaten Washington, they would have been in. With their early loss, they were forced to wait and ride out the season finale between the Saints and Panthers and the overtime game between the New York Jets and St. Louis. The Panthers' loss allowed the Vikings to get in, but even that came down to the wire, as the Cardiac Cats, as the Panthers have been dubbed, have been wont to do.

With 1:04 left in the New Orleans-Carolina game and the Saints leading 21-18, the Saints' Ernie Conwell caught a third-down pass in bounds. He rolled out of bounds to stop the clock, giving the Panthers just enough time to work the ball into potential field goal range even though they didn't have any timeouts.

With four seconds remaining, Panthers kicker John Kasay needed to hit a 60-yard field goal for Carolina to make the playoffs and knock the Vikings out of postseason play. The attempt was blocked, and the Vikings did indeed back into the playoffs despite going 3-7 in their final 10 games of the season.


The NFL never misses a chance to tout their television ratings, but the ratings that mattered most in the Minnesota-Washington game were the Redskins' defensive ratings.

Washington entered the game with the second-rated defense in the NFL — third against the rush and fifth against the pass. It didn't do anything to hurt those ratings. Against the run, Washington allowed only 52 yards rushing, with Daunte Culpepper as the leading rusher with 24 yards on two runs. Michael Bennett, who started the game, was held to 19 yards on eight rushes.

Culpepper threw for 299 yards and two touchdowns, but he was pressured all day and succumbed to the sack four times, including three on one drive to open the second half.


The weather in Washington wasn't bad, but the Vikings' outdoor troubles continued. They entered the game having only won two outdoor contests in their last 21 attempts. That mark got chillier when they dropped their 20th game in their last 22 tries outdoors. They are 1-4 on grass this season.

The only bright spot is that one of those two outdoor wins in the last two years came at Lambeau Field last year, and the Vikings will travel to Green Bay to open the playoffs with a 3:30 p.m. start on Sunday. It will be the first playoff meeting between the NFC North division rivals.


The Vikings' only defensive Pro Bowler this year continued to play like a Pro Bowler. Kevin Williams had numerous big plays during the Vikings' struggle at Washington.

He ended the Redskins' second drive of the game in Vikings territory when he was blocked well and backed into coverage for an interception at the 21-yard line.

On the next drive, the Redskins went three-and-out thanks to Williams batting down a Patrick Ramsey pass at the line of scrimmage on second down.

On the Redskins' second drive of the third quarter, Williams beat single-coverage blocking and knocked down Ramsey and knocked the ball loose. When Kenechi Udeze covered it, the Vikings had possession at their own 21-yard line again — the second time a huge by Williams play averted a Redskins drive in scoring territory.

Williams finished with three tackles, two of those sacks, one interception and one forced fumble.


With the game on the line in the fourth quarter, a couple of plays defined the Vikings' inability to make the plays that were needed to win.

At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Vikings started a drive at their own 32-yard line. After a 6-yard run by Onterrio Smith, Daunte Culpepper lofted a pass down the right sideline for Randy Moss. Moss made a big adjustment on the play and caught the ball at its peak and went into the end zone with a move on the defensive back. That play was called back because of holding on Adam Goldberg. Two incompletions later and the Vikings were punting away.

On the next possession, facing second-and-5 from the 46-yard line, Culpepper lofted a pass for Nate Burleson, who was wide open on a crossing route. Burleson simply dropped the pass before he had possession at the 22-yard line. He had an open angle to the end zone and almost surely would have scored on the play. On the next play, a third-down play, Moss bobbled a pass and didn't have possession before he went out of bounds. That would have been a first down.

Either of those would-be touchdowns could have pulled the Vikings within four points. Instead, they went away losers.

A false start on Moss at the start of the second quarter on third-and-goal from the 1-yard line also forced the Vikings to settle for a field goal after an incomplete pass. Three penalties took away three golden scoring opportunities.


Culpepper came into the game having been sacked 42 times. So it figured Washington's aggressive defense would pressure him early and often.

The Redskins did that, but for much of the first half Culpepper was simply brilliant under heavy pressure. He didn't always complete the pass, but only once was he forced to take the sack in the first half.

He scrambled or wrestled away from pressure three times in the first half to throw it away, and on several other occasions he completed the pass with defenders draped on him or scrambled for first downs.

The Vikings offense hasn't been truly explosive in a long time, but Culpepper has kept them from being awful with a young offensive line forced to adjust because of injuries.

In the second half, Culpepper's fortunes changed in a hurry. On the Vikings' opening drive of the third quarter, Culpepper was sacked three times, and twice in succession to end that drive. Washington finished with four sacks.


With two seconds left and the Vikings trailing by three points, they were busy concocting an onside kick strategy that might somehow allow them to score the necessary points to tie or win the game. Randy Moss was not among those plans, as he walked off the field and into the locker room and never saw the game's final two plays, when the Redskins covered the onside kick and knelt down for the final play.


Vikings special teams coach Rusty Tillman, a special teams standout with the Redskins from 1970-77, was selected to the Redskins' 70th anniversary team in 2002. He could only hope his special teams tackling aura would carry over to his current pupils in Purple. There was no such luck Sunday, as the Vikings opened the game by giving up a 66-yard kick return on the game's opening play. Eight plays later, the Saints had a 7-0 lead, and the Vikings never caught up.


Culpepper, tight end Jermaine Wiggins and cornerback Antoine Winfield all left the Vikings' practice facility with flu symptoms last week. How did they fare Sunday outdoors?

Culpepper survived a pressure-filled game with 299 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in a composed role despite extreme pressure.

Wiggins caught seven passes for 58 yards to move into elite tight end territory in franchise history.

Winfield played, but he had only one tackle.


During its halftime show, FOX sports' studio analysts debated the future of Mike Tice. Howie Long said Tice deserved to be fired with another collapse if the Vikings didn't make the playoffs. Jimmy Johnson said the interesting development was that offensive coordinator Scott Linehan didn't accept his extension and could be in line for Tice's job if Tice is fired. Long responded by saying that Linehan shouldn't take the job because with Red McCombs as the owner the organization isn't set up to win.

All of that likely took care of itself when New Orleans let the Vikings into the playoffs.


Kicker Morten Andersen is 44 years old and ticking. His NFL record for games played was extended to 354, leading former Vikings kicker Gary Anderson, currently with Tennessee, by one game.

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