Daunte Culpepper's transition from the preseason to the regular season couldn't have been much worse. His first drive and his last two drives of the season ended with interceptions, contributing heavily to the Vikings' demise against visiting Tampa Bay.
Culpepper finished the preseason with an 81.8 completion percentage and a 114.0 rating. The stats that will most be remembered in his regular-season opener are two fumbles and three interceptions in a 24-13 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Culpepper and the offense struggled much of the game, but twice inside the red zone Culpepper threw interceptions and he lost two fumbles while being unable to throw a touchdown pass that wasn't called back on a penalty. He finished the game 22 of 33 with only a 49.2 passer rating.
The Bucs, meanwhile, forced the issue with their usual aggressive defense, causing four fumbles overall and allowing only two rushing first downs while holding the Vikings to 248 yards. Culpepper was only sacked twice, but the pressure was evident in the 4.9-yard average per offensive play for Minnesota.
Minnesota's defense played nearly as well, but they were on the field for 20 minutes in the first half and many of the starters began to tire or cramp up.
The Vikings defense shut down Tampa Bay in three plays to open the game, and the offense looked prime for a scoring drive despite having to overcome a sack and a holding penalty.
The Vikings' initial drive started with a 9-yard run by Moe Williams, but Anthony McFarland beat Marcus Johnson for an 8-yard sack on second down. No matter, on third-and-9, Culpepper found Williams cutting across the middle of the field and hit him in stride for an eventual 25-yard gain. On the next set of downs, a holding call on center Cory Withrow set up second-and-20, but Culpepper scrambled for 4 yards and hit Robinson for 14 to set up a first down on the Bucs 25-yard line. On the next play, cornerback Brian Kelly intercepted a Culpepper pass and ended the Vikings' drive.
After an initial first down by the Bucs, the Minnesota defense got aggressive and it paid dividends. Following a motion penalty on Tampa Bay and an incompletion, Keith Newman dropped Carnell Williams for a 5-yard loss. On third down, the defense swarmed Williams again for a 1-yard gain and forced a punt.
This time, Culpepper made a mistake on the second play of the drive, when he turned to pass to Burleson at the line of scrimmage and fumbled the ball when he cocked his arm. Bucs defensive end Dewayne White scooped up the ball and returned it 18 yards to the Vikings 23-yard line.
The defense rose up again. On third-and-5, safety Darren Sharper jumped a wide receiver route, intercepted the ball at the 12-yard line and returned it 88 yards for the first score of the Vikings season with 2:44 left in the first quarter.
Joey Galloway responded for the Bucs, converting two third-down plays with big receptions on their next drive. Facing third-and-9, Galloway came down with a 14-yard reception. Two plays later, on third-and-9 again, Galloway got enough of a step on Brian Williams for a 30-yard reception down the right sideline. One play later, Brian Griese had feathered a nice pass over the shoulder of tight end Alex Smith for a 23-yard touchdown to tie the game five seconds into the second quarter.
Culpepper continued his turnover ways when he scrambled on the third play of the drive and was caught from behind by Simeon Rice, who stripped the ball, which Chris Hovan recovered. The Vikings defense returned the favor three plays later when Fred Smoot intercepted Griese on the third play of the Bucs' drive.
After going three-and-out, the Vikings still managed to get the Bucs backed up when rookie punter Chris Kluwe bombed a 62-yard punt. But going 80 yards proved to be a task the Bucs were up for. They worked Cadillac Williams hard, and he rewarded them, first with a 19-yard run on the second play of the drive. Galloway came up with another big third-down catch, this one for 11 yards. Three plays later, Smith was capping the drive with his second touchdown of the game following a Griese scramble. After his 2-yard TD catch, the Bucs had a 14-7 lead with 4:38 left in the first half.
While the Vikings offense continued to sputter, the defense was getting a workout, and it continued after another three-and-out by the offense.
Tampa started their final scoring drive of the half from the 31-yard line, and Galloway did what he had done so many times already in the first quarter, moving the chains on third down. On this occasion, he burned dime back Ralph Brown for a 36-yard reception down the right sideline, putting Tampa Bay in position for the eventual 41-yard field goal to end the first-half scoring with the Bucs holding a 17-7 advantage.
The offense struggled on its opening drive of the first half, but the defense shut down Tampa's offense as well, setting up Minnesota first with its first offensive points of the game.
Culpepper scrambled 10 yards for the initial third-down conversion, but penalties continued to threaten the forward progress. A holding call on Withrow and an illegal formation forced the Vikings into a second-and-24 hole that Culpepper-to-Travis Taylor quickly erased with a 25-yard bullet up the middle. A 10-yard screen to Michael Bennett netted 10 yards, and on third-and-9 the Vikings appeared to have a 35-yard touchdown to Jermaine Wiggins. However, Wiggins was inexplicably called for offensive pass interference, taking away the points and eventually forcing Paul Edinger onto the field for a 53-yard field goal to cut the Bucs lead to 17-10 with 3:52 left in the third quarter.
The teams exchanged three punts before the Vikings began their final scoring drive. On third-and-9, Culpepper connected with Kleinsasser for a 13-yard pass. On third-and-6, Culpepper found Jermaine Wiggins for a 27-yard touchdown pass play that was negated by an illegal block in the back. On the next play, Culpepper found Wiggins again for a 17-yard completion for a first down at the 10-yard line. On third-and-goal from the 4-yard line, a high, hard throw from Culpepper to Marcus Robinson deflected off Robinson's hands out of bounds, forcing Edinger onto the field for a 22-yard field goal to bring the Vikings within four points, trailing 17-13 with 6:13 to play.
Once again, the Minnesota defense held and the offense and had a final chance to win the game. It started good early when Culpepper connected with Nate Burleson for 20 yards on first down. The Vikings got another first down on a defensive penalty, and Wiggins and Burleson provided two more first downs on consecutive plays of 11 and 15 yards. An 8-yard pass to Jim Kleinsasser and a 2-yard run by Moe Williams moved the chains one last time before Culpepper capped an uncharacteristically poor game with an interception that bounced off Williams' hands into the grasp of cornerback Brian Kelly to give the Bucs the lead and the ball with time waning.
On the Bucs' third play of their ensuing drive, Cadillac Williams got past the initial defensive push and sprinted 71 yards for the game-capping touchdown with 1:23 to play.
On the Vikings' first play in their final possession, Culpepper threw over the middle and was intercepted by linebacker Derrick Brooks to end the game.
Culpepper's inability to finish a drive with a touchdown ended his streak of 21 straight games with a touchdown pass. Worse yet, it started the Vikings' season with a loss.
Vikings Turn Over Game To Bucs
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