The Vikings finally lived up to their offseason mantra of spreading the ball around to many different receivers and finding success. Daunte Culpepper was on his game, and the receivers responded with multiple catches and explosive plays. Plus, get more than two dozen game-day notes and statistics.
No Moss? No Burleson? No problem.
The Vikings got their first win of the season Sunday with a 33-16 victory over the Saints at the Metrodome thanks in large part to getting different players involved. Coming into the game as the lowest-rated starting QB in the league, Daunte Culpepper
got back to doing what made him one of the best QBs in the league – spreading the ball around and making big plays.
"We knew it was only a matter of time before things turned our way," said Travis Taylor
, who caught three passes for 40 yards and two touchdowns. "We had been frustrated, but we have too many weapons on this team. Koren (Robinson), Marcus (Robinson), Troy (Williamson) and myself can all contribute and make a difference. Today we were able to make it happen."
Culpepper had struggled in his first two games, throwing no touchdowns and having eight interceptions, but that changed in a big way Sunday. He came into the game with a passer rating of 44.1. But, thanks to completing 21 of 29 passes for 300 yards, he finished with a passer rating of 140.0 and looked to erase the memory of the struggles he had in the first two games.
"We had our share of problems the first two games, but we never lost focus on what we needed to do," Culpepper told VU. "We knew that if we executed like we know we can, the big plays would come."
They came early and late for the Vikings. In the first two games, the Vikings had a long pass play of 25 yards – the lowest high-yardage total in the league. The team would shatter that with passes of 53 yards to Troy Williamson
and 68 yards to Marcus Robinson
While one game doesn't make a season, it surely made a difference to the fans who had recoiled in horror the last two weeks and had the Vikings back on the right track.
"We needed to get a win today and we got it convincingly," tight end Jermaine Wiggins
said. "Now we need to build on this and keep things rolling in the right direction."
One of the happiest men in the Metrodome Sunday was owner Zygi Wilf, who was presented a game ball after the win and had no intention of letting it go, saying, "This is one of the best gifts I've ever received. I'm proud of how our guys came together – players and coaches. This was a team victory."
After rushing for just 110 yards as a team in the first two games of the season, new starter Mewelde Moore rushed for 101 yards on 23 carries – his third 100-yard game in four career starts and the second in two starts vs. New Orleans – where Moore went to college as a member of the Tulane Green Wave.
One of the loudest chants Sunday from the crowd was for Fred Smoot, who had four passes defensed and, along with Antoine Winfield, allowed Joe Horn and Donte Stallworth to combine for one catch for 11 yards. "That's what they pay me to do," Smoot said.
"Both Antoine and I like to play face up with the receivers and we've pushed to have the coaches let us do it more. I think after they look at the film, they may let us do that more."
As for the Smoot chants, he said that has followed him throughout his career, but added that the number of times he heard it meant he must have had a pretty good game.
Culpepper had his fourth 300-yard game in five career starts vs. the Saints.
Culpepper's 140.0 passer rating was the fourth highest of his career.
The most troubling stat for the Vikings was that, after having just one sack through the first two games, the Saints sacked Culpepper seven times, prompting Mike Tice to say that the five linemen that were on the field Sunday may not be the same five that will be starting following the team's bye week.
The Vikings reversed perhaps their ugliest trend of the year. The team had been outscored 44-7 in the first half of the first two games, but held a 24-6 edge in the first half Sunday.
Chris Kluwe continued his strong play. He came into the game leading the league in punting average and averaged 48.4 yards a punt Sunday.
The Vikings didn't have any turnovers Sunday, while the Saints coughed the ball up four times – twice on interceptions and twice on special teams fumbles.
Culpepper broke the franchise record for most touchdown passes in his first seven seasons with 132 – breaking the old record held by Fran Tarkenton. The NFL record is 220 by Dan Marino.
Jermaine Wiggins has only been with the team for two years, but he moved into 10th place all-time for tight end receiving yards when he topped the 800-yard mark.
Moe Williams moved into 10th place in franchise history for receptions by a running back with his 128th. Ninth place all-time is the first Vikings draft choice – Tommy Mason.
After having its defense on the field for nearly 40 minutes in each of the first two games, the Vikings offense held the ball for 17:27 of the first half Sunday.
In the first half, the Vikings rolled up 315 yards of total offense, including 88 yards rushing and 246 passing yards from Culpepper.
The Vikings allowed a touchdown pass to tight end Ernie Conwell – the 15th tight end TD in the last 15 games vs. the Vikings defense.
Willie Offord will have an MRI Monday to look at his injured knee, which Tice said might be a serious injury. He was injured in the second half, but returned to action and reinjured it – forcing Ken Irvin to move from dime back to safety.
Lance Johnstone left the game late in the first half with a shoulder sprain and didn't return.
CB Brian Williams suffered a knee sprain in the first half and didn't return.
The Vikings had their share of injuries heading into the game, as Darren Sharper, E.J. Henderson and Nate Burleson were all among the team's inactives.
Saints All-Pro Joe Horn didn't catch a pass until 7:30 remained in the third quarter. In the first half, the Saints completed just one pass to a wide receiver – a 10-yard pass to Devery Henderson.
The Vikings domination of the first quarter was complete. Not only did the team hold the ball for 10:18 of the quarter, they outrushed the Saints 77-20 and outpassed them 120-33.
The Vikings didn't have a penalty until 5:44 remained in the first half, while the Saints had seven penalties at that point.
The Vikings touchdown just 13 seconds into the game was the fastest score in team history, breaking the old record of 16 seconds set vs. Philadelphia Nov. 19, 1989.
The 10-0 lead in the first quarter was the first double-digit lead for the Vikings this season.
The Vikings defense allowed just three three-and-out series for the opposition in the first two games. The defense started Sunday's game with back-to-back three-and-outs to the Saints and had an interception on the third series.
The Saints did not have a first down until the final play of the first quarter, at which point the Vikings already had eight first downs and 17 points.
For the third straight time, the Vikings lost the opening coin toss, allowing the opponent the first chance to score. That advantage was quickly negated by a fumble on the opening kickoff.
The Vikings clock management came into question very early in the game as the Saints had time thanks to the Vikings slow reaction to kicking the extra point following a 24-yard TD to Travis Taylor. The play stood and the touchdown counted, but the delay was something the team will have to work on or at least pay more attention to in future.
Former Viking Mitch Berger was booed loudly by the Metrodome fans when his name was announced on the Saints first punt of the game.
Unike Berger, new Viking Koren Robinson got a huge ovation in his first play of the game, a 4-yard reverse. He didn't catch a pass but returned four kickoffs for 91 yards, including a key 46-yard return when the Saints had cut the Vikings lead to eight points.
Vikings tight ends coach John Tice spent 10 years playing for the Saints.
In last year's game with the Saints, Daunte Culpepper earned NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors with 425 yards and five TDs. He also won POW honors when the teams met in 2002.
Perhaps out of fear that the Vikings offense might receive a tepid response from the fans (or worse), the team opted to introduce the defense at the start of the game.
Prior to the game, the Vikings presented a check for $100,000 to the victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, as well as observing a moment of silence for those who lost their lives in the storms.
The paid attendance Sunday was 63,952 – the 78th straight sellout at the Metrodome.