PASSING OFFENSE: D — Playing behind an offensive line that struggled to provide interior protection, quarterback Daunte Culpepper threw three interceptions and registered a career-low 49.2 rating. He was also sacked twice as the Vikings failed to generate an offensive touchdown for the first time since Oct. 25, 2001. Top receiver Nate Burleson caught only three passes for 45 yards, and the first pass directed at Burleson was picked off by Brian Kelly.
RUSHING OFFENSE: F — The passing game looked downright productive compared to the ground attack. The Vikings were held to 26 yards on 16 carries (a 1.6 average) and No. 1 running back Michael Bennett had minus-1 yard on six rushes while Culpepper had the best rushing average (3.0 yards). The 26 yards were the fewest since the Vikings had 15 in a 42-23 loss to Seattle on Nov. 10, 1996. Blocking proved to be a major issue Sunday, and a second-half adjustment was made when rookie right guard Marcus Johnson was replaced by Adam Goldberg.
PASS DEFENSE: B-minus — Rookie tight end Alex Smith caught two touchdown passes, but overall the Vikings looked solid. Safety Darren Sharper returned an interception 88 yards for a first-quarter touchdown after jumping the route on a Brian Griese pass and fellow newcomer, cornerback Fred Smoot, also added an interception.
RUSH DEFENSE: B — The Vikings had given up only 75 yards on the ground until rookie Carnell Williams broke a 71-yard touchdown run that came with veteran middle linebacker Sam Cowart out of the game. Big nose tackle Pat Williams, signed as a free agent from Buffalo, seemed to make a difference shoring up the middle of the line.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B — Rookie Chris Kluwe was outstanding in his Vikings debut, averaging 54.3 yards (42.5 net) on four punts. Kicker Paul Edinger made field goals of 22 and 53 yards, although he needs to show a bit more consistency on his kickoffs. About the only negative was a missed opportunity or two in the return game.
COACHING: C — The offensive effort probably deserves an F, but defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell's unit brings the grade up. The team's five new defensive starters, six if middle-turned-weak side linebacker E.J. Henderson is included, appeared to be on the same page. Offensively, the Vikings not only struggled, but failed to live up to the promise that they would have a more balanced attack. They passed the ball about twice as much as they ran it against the Buccaneers.
Grading The Game: Bucs
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