A Minnesota Vikings offense that had struggled to score points most of this season ended up giving away 14 points in the second half, ruining a phenomenal performance by the rush defense, which held Miami to minus-3 yards rushing the entire game.
But the Dolphins beat the Vikings 24-20 thanks to two second-half touchdowns by their own defense – one on a fumble return and another on an interception return that erased a 13-10 Vikings lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter and gave the Dolphins a 24-13 lead and the eventual win. Miami improved to 4-6 with its third straight win and the Vikings fell to 4-6 with their fourth straight loss.
While Minnesota running back Chester Taylor had 80 yards rushing and two touchdowns, he fumbled the ball twice in the second half, losing both, with the second one resulting in a 48-yard fumble return by Renaldo Hill for a touchdown that gave the Dolphins a 17-13 lead. Only six minutes and two seconds later, Miami defensive end Jason Taylor, who caused one of those fumbles, stepped into a short passing lane and intercepted a Brad Johnson pass, returning it 51 yards for a touchdown and a 24-13 lead that was too much for the Vikings to overcome with only 3:25 left in the game.
The Vikings' offensive turnovers marred a brilliant performance by Minnesota's run defense that held the Dolphins to negative yards rushing on 14 attempts, a new franchise worst for the Dolphins and a new franchise best for the Vikings, beating their old mark of 12 yards yielded to San Francisco in 1969.
But it was the Vikings' final ugly quarter that undid their advantage in many of the statistics, including gaining 10 more first downs than the Dolphins, 110 more yards of offense and 117 more rushing yards and a 12-minute advantage in time of possession.
The first half was one of switching momentums. The Dolphins drove the ball deep to the Vikings 1-yard line on nine straight passing plays, as Harrington completed eight of them with a spread-out Miami offense reminiscent of the Patriots' success three weeks earlier. But once they were knocking on the doorstep of the end zone, a fumbled exchange between quarterback Joey Harrington and running back Ronnie Brown was recovered by safety Dwight Smith and the Vikings avoided an early hole.
From his 4-yard line, Johnson drove the Vikings to their first touchdown on an opening drive since the season opener in Washington. Unlike the Dolphins, the Vikings used a balanced attack, with Taylor having early success with runs of 10, 6 and 6 yards, and the Vikings got the benefit of a roughing-the-passer call to get near midfield. Fullback Jeff Dugan, getting his first extended action of the season in place of Tony Richardson, took them across midfield with a 7-yard reception. And, after a 7-yard pickup by Jermaine Wiggins, it was all Chester Taylor and Travis Taylor. Chester took two carries for 11 yards and Travis caught consecutive passes of 8 and 18 yards to get to the 1-yard line. The Vikings finished their drive with Chester's first-down leap over the pile and into the end zone, giving them a 7-0 lead with 4:02 left in the first quarter.
After an exchange of punts, the Dolphins gained the edge in field position and started their second-quarter scoring with a field goal drive. All it took was a 25-yard pass to Marty Booker to get into Olindo Mare's range, and the veteran kicker hammered home a 44-yard field goal 51 seconds into the second quarter.
The Vikings picked up one first down on their next drive, but punted back to the Dolphins for the final scoring drive of the first half. Again, the Dolphins did it through the air. After backing up 6 yards on a running play, the Dolphins moved forward with a 12-yard pass to Booker and then a 36-yard pass play to Wes Welker, who used a pick that went uncalled to separate himself from Antoine Winfield. One first down later, Booker caught a 14-yard pass, and Dolphins capped the drive with an 11-yard pass play that took advantage of a Vikings blitz to give the Dolphins a 10-7 lead with 5:34 left in the second quarter.
The Vikings picked up one more first down on a gambling fourth-and short in their own territory, but eventually the teams went to halftime with the Dolphins' three-point lead still intact despite getting minus-13 yards rushing throughout the half.
The Vikings started the second half with a 25-yard pass play to Bethel Johnson, but couldn't get anything going after that. The Dolphins responded with a 52-yard touchdown pass to Chris Chambers on their first drive of the half, but it was called back because of a chop block by Justin Peele on Kevin Williams. Miami couldn't recover from that, and a 28-yard punt return by Mewelde Moore helped set up the Vikings in Dolphins territory.
Minnesota got it started with a 13-yard pass to Troy Williamson, and Travis Taylor and Dugan combined for 11 yards on two receptions for another first down, but the 17-yard line was as close as the Vikings got on that drive. Longwell tied the game at 10-10 with a 35-yard field goal with 6:09 left in the third quarter.
The Dolphins tried to respond when they got good field position after Longwell kicked off out of bounds. They picked up two first downs through the air to get into Mare's range, but he left a 44-yard field goal wide to the left to keep the game tied.
The Vikings responded with a drive that ended near midfield when Williamson dropped a third-down pass and forced a punt, but Winfield helped his offense with a drive-opening interception of Harrington that he returned to the 3-yard line.
After an incompletion and two Chester Taylor dives that gained 2 yards, the Vikings settled for a 19-yard Longwell field goal to take a 13-10 lead 48 seconds into the final quarter.
It was then that the offense hurt their own cause and flushed the game away. On two consecutive possessions, Chester Taylor was stripped off the ball, and on both occasions the Dolphins recovered. The first time, they couldn't do anything with it, cornerback Renaldo Hill picked up the second fumble and returned it 48 yards for a touchdown and a 17-13 Miami lead.
After an exchange of punts following short drives, the Vikings got the ball back with 5:27 to play and needing a touchdown to retake the lead. Instead, they gave a touchdown – and the game – away. After picking up two first downs with consecutive passes of 9 and 14 yards to Wiggins, Johnson tried to dump a short pass off to Chester Taylor, but Jason Taylor backed up into the passing lane, intercepted the pass and returned it 51 yards for the game-sealing touchdown.
The Vikings tried to mount of a comeback drive, but their ineffective deep game turned a hurry-up offense into a drive that 15 plays before Chester Taylor scored on a 1-yard plunge with no time remaining for a 24-20 Miami win, the Dolphins' third straight victory and the Vikings' fourth consecutive loss after starting the season 4-2.
The Vikings are having a November to remember, but what they hoped might be a dream season under first-year head coach Brad Childress has turned into a nightmare. They can only hope they wake up soon to discover a win in the second half of the season.
Meltdown in Miami
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