The Minnesota Vikings had been lacking big plays and offensive touchdowns in their first two losses, but it's funny how all the explanations and excuses can melt away when the Vikings protect the ball and protect their quarterback, at least enough to hit on a few big plays. The Vikings didn't turn the ball over, paving the way for a 33-16 win over New Orleans Sunday at the Metrodome.
With the win, the Vikings move to 1-2 on the season, dropping the Saints to 1-2.
Daunte Culpepper had a 155.4 passer rating and three touchdowns in the first half on his way to a 24-0 lead, ending the game with a 140.0 rating on 21 of 29 passing with no interceptions.
Culpepper's early success – he threw a touchdown on his first pass of the game – allowed the Vikings to stick with their running attack for the first time this year as well. Mewelde Moore rushed 23 times for 101 yards, and Culpepper added to the running game with 36 yards on eight rushes.
The game couldn't have started much better for the Vikings. After a short opening kickoff to the 15-yard line, Richard Owens forced a fumble on replacement kick returner Aaron Stecker, and Antoine Winfield recovered. Only 13 seconds into the game and on the first offensive play, Culpepper hit Travis Taylor on a slant-and-post that barely allowed him to get both feet in bounds for a game-opening 24-yard touchdown and a 7-0 Vikings lead.
The defense held, and the offense had to drive the length of the field on their second possession for a score. They nearly did that, as Moore carried the load. He rushed for 9, 5 and 28 yards to get the ball across midfield and picked up another first down before the drive stalled on the 15-yard line when the Vikings called for a fade in the end zone to Marcus Robinson that went high and off his hands on third-and-1. Paul Edinger converted the 24-yard field goal for a 10-0 Vikings lead.
On their next drive, Culpepper found Robinson loose for a 68-yard bomb on the opening play, but three straight drop-backs for Culpepper netted two incompletions and a 1-yard scramble. That brought on Edinger for a 33-yard attempt, but he bounced the kick off the right upright for the miss.
After a Keith Newman interception at the Saints 26-yard line and a 10-yard pass to Jermaine Wiggins, on the fifth play of the drive, Culpepper fired a bullet in traffic that Taylor dove for, completing a 13-yard touchdown and a 17-0 Minnesota lead.
That lead held until the Vikings had another one-play touchdown bomb, this one to Troy Williamson for 53 yards and a 24-0 lead with 5:37 to play in the first half.
The Saints finally answered the bell using a heavy dose of running back Deuce McAllister. The first four gains went to McAllister for a combined 33 yards across midfield. A 10-yard pass to Devery Henderson and runs of 17 and 2 yards to Antowain Smith put the ball on the 18-yard line. One play later, Brooks found Conwell for a 13-yard touchdown with 1:54 to play in the half. When Brooks bobbled a pass attempt while going for the two-point conversion that failed, the Vikings had a 24-6 lead that held into the second half.
Minnesota opened the second half with a drive that made it to midfield but no further. The Saints countered with a 66-yard pass play to Henderson on third-and-14, putting the ball inside the red zone. After an 11-yard pass to Joe Horn, his first and only reception of the game, the Saints were forced to settle for a 22-yard field goal, giving the Vikings a 24-9 advantage with 5:38 left in the third quarter.
After trading possessions, Henderson put New Orleans across midfield with a 19-yard reception that was followed by a 21-yarder to Conwell, putting the ball in the red zone. It took a fourth-down penalty on Ken Irvin to give the Saints another shot at scoring, but with the ball on the 1-yard line, McAllister put it in the end zone to pull the Saints within eight points, 24-16, with 11:40 to play.
The Vikings responded with a 46-yard kickoff return by Koren Robinson. Following a 17-yard scramble by Culpepper and 10-yard pass to Wiggins that had yards added for taunting, the Vikings were in field goal position. Edinger converted the 28-yard attempt, pushing the lead back to two scores, 27-16 with 6:17 left to play.
Antoine Winfield followed that with an interception in Saints territory on their first drive, and Edinger added another 48-yarder for a 30-16 lead with 4:29 to play.
On Minnesota's next possession, Edinger cemented the win with a 34-yarder for a 33-16 win.
The Vikings needed to play better and did. They came away with their first win in the first game this season in which they owned the turnover advantage, 4-0.
However, their execution will have to get even better to be expected to win next week in Atlanta before heading the bye.
Vikings Protect Ball, QB In 33-16 Win
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