Break out the victory cigar. Mike Tice will.
Tice got his first win as Vikings coach Friday night with a 24-21 win in Buffalo, a win that saw an improved defense and another solid showing from the first-team offense.
On offense, Michael Bennett not only played after expecting to sit out with a sprained knee, he gained 49 yards on five carries. Daunte Culpepper looked strong and consistent, completing 12 of 19 passes for 189 yards and one touchdown. Derrick Alexander's first game action in a Vikings uniform garnered two passes for 52 yards. And the Randy Ratio stayed intact, getting thrown to 42 percent of the Vikings' pass attempts in the first half with the Vikings winning. He finished with four catches for 71 yards.
If Vikings fans wanted to see a more aggressive defense from coordinator Willie Shaw, they got that in Buffalo, too.
Shaw's defense stunted and blitzed on nearly every play in the first quarter, creating big plays for both the Vikings defense and the Buffalo offense. After the Bills picked up a first down on their opening drive, Kenny Mixon ended the drive with a sack of Drew Bledsoe on third down with an inside stunt.
The Vikings offense didn't start on a good note, as D'Wayne Bates caught a screen pass and fumbled while trying to pick up a first down. Safety Pierson Prioleau put a helmet on the ball and Billy Jenkins picked it up and returned it to the 13-yard line.
The defense rose up again, stopping running back Travis Henry for 6 yards on two carries and then getting a dropped pass on third down. That forced Buffalo to settle for a 3-0 lead with a 25-yard Mike Hollis field goal.
Kick returner David Allen responded to prodding by Mike Tice this week and brought his first attempt back to the 45-yard line, and it would take only three plays to go 55 yards to paydirt. The big play came on second-and-5 when the Bills came on a corner blitz — with the corner lined up opposite Moss making the move. That left the Bills in zone coverage and vulnerable when Moss cut up the middle of a slick and wet field. Jenkins eventually caught Moss in a good angle of pursuit at the 3. But Bennett, who wasn't expected to play yesterday, picked up the touchdown on a 3-yard run, giving Minnesota a 7-3 lead with 9:29 to play in the first quarter.
The Bills marched nearly the length of the field, thanks to runs of 20 and 15 yards by Henry and a 16-yard pass to Peerless Price. But once at the 4-yard line, a 2-yard run and an incompletion brought on Hollis for a 20-yard field.
Culpepper took over on his own 14-yard line and went immediately to Bates, who delivered with a 31-yard catch-and-run. A defensive penalty, a reception by Jim Kleinsasser and a run by Bennett picked up another first down across midfield. Culpepper moved the chains again with an 11-yard run, followed by an 11-yard run by Bennett. Two quarterback sneaks on third and fourth down picked up a final first down before getting another touchdown. On the next play, Byron Chamberlain, split out wide, trailed Moss to the middle of the field and, with two defenders concentrating on Moss, Culpepper found Chamberlain for an 8-yard TD and a 14-6 lead with 13:43 left in the first half.
With the Vikings using mainly a second-team defensive line, Buffalo answered with a nine-play drive that only needed to cover 53 yards after a big kickoff return. Talance Sawyer started it out right for the Vikings defense with a 7-yard sack to start the drive, but a 32-yard pass interference penalty on cornerback Eric Kelly was the big play Buffalo needed. An 11-yard pass to fullback Larry Centers and a 9-yard pass to Eric Moulds moved the Bills to the 1-yard line. Although Moulds was ruled on the field to have fumbled when Lemanski Hall hit him and Tyrone Carter returned it 98 yards for a touchdown, the call was overturned on review and the Bills took advantage. After three tries, running back Shawn Bryson finally got into the end zone to pull the Bills within one at 14-13 with 9:23 remaining in the second quarter.
The Vikings answered with more points from the first-team offense, but would have to settle for a 19-yard field goal from Doug Brien. They got into position, thanks to a 28-yard run by Bennett, a 20-yard catch by Alexander and an 11-yard scramble by Culpeppper. But after getting the ball to the 1-yard with a 7-yard pass to Moss, Moe Williams was stopped for no gain on third down.
The Vikings' 17-13 lead would have to be good in the first half because, while the defense held Buffalo on their ensuing drive, another Brien attempt to end the half was deflected at the line of scrimmage. However, the final offensive series for the first-team offense was impressive. Moss picked up one first down with a 17-yard catch and Moe Williams moved the chains with a 21-yard draw play. Alexander picked up the final first down of the half with a 27-yard pass.
Then came the second half and a run of second- and third-stringers. The Vikings, with Todd Bouman at QB, failed to move the chains, but the Bills moved them quickly. On their first possession of the second half, tight end Sheldon Jackson found a big opening in the defense and went 33 yards on a catch-and-run. That put the ball on the 20-yard line, and a penalty on Lorenzo Bromell and three rushes by Richard Huntley gave the Bills a two-point lead (with a missed extra point) at 19-17.
More failure to move the ball with Bouman and Shaun Hill under center on the next two series set up a big play for the Vikings defense. Buffalo drove methodically to the Vikings 22-yard line, but rookie defensive backs Brian Williams and Jack Brewer combined for one of the big plays this defense craves. Bills QB Travis Brown threw for the end zone, but Williams tipped the ball underneath in coverage and Brewer caught the fluttering ball with a dive in the end zone on the first play of the fourth quarter.
But the fourth and fifth series for the Vikings offense weren't any better. After five second-half series split between Bouman and Hill, the Vikings' second and third strings couldn't pick up a first down.
But, apparently, the sixth was a charm.
After defensive lineman Willie Howard pounced on a quarterback fumble in his first game action since serious injuries ended his 2001 season, the Vikings went for the big play. Hill got it on a playfake when he found Kelly Campbell down the right sideline for a 25-yard touchdown with 9:59 left in the game. In one play, the Vikings regained the lead at 24-19.
But they would need one more stop from the defense to hang onto the lead.
With 9:59 to play, the Bills went on a 20-play drive the covered 83 yards — but they needed 90 yards for a touchdown and didn't get it. After Buffalo got first-and-goal on the 1-yard line, Antonio Wilson stuffed second-half workhorse running back Joe Burns for no gain. On second down, Darius Holland caught Burns in the backfield for a 6-yard loss. And passes on third and fourth down sailed high and out of the end zone.
The Vikings only had to kneel on the ball three times and run out of the end zone for a safety after taking up the final three seconds on a fourth-down punt formation to preserve a 24-21 win — an important road win for confidence in the Mike Tice era.
Tice Gets First Win, 24-21
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