Vikings fans looking for a legitimate test of this offense and defense would have to wait at least one more week, possibly until the season opener against the Bears.
Why? The Titans rolled into town with nearly a full team. However, those with the team and those who were actually starting were two different looks.
Tennessee held out a good number of starters — on offense, TE Frank Wycheck, QB Steve McNair and RB Eddie George; on defense, CB Samari Rolle, S Tank Williams, DE Jevon Kearse, DT Albert Haynesworth, DE Carlos Hall, MLB Randall Godfrey and FS Lance Shulters.
Still, the Vikings offense struggled early to move the ball consistently and the defense gave up yardage but didn't easily yield points. It all added up to a 14-10 win over Tennessee in the third preseason game, as the Vikings moved to 2-1 in head coach Mike Tice's first year as the helm.
In their first two series, the Vikings picked up only one first down, as short passes to Randy Moss were defended well.
In their first two series, the Titans hit on a few explosive plays — a 20-yard pass to Robert Holcombe, a 12-yard run by Skip Hicks, and passes of 22 yards to Eddie Berlin and 11 to Erron Kinney — but couldn't turn the battle of field position into points. A 10-yard sack by Chris Hovan and Lance Johnstone put a dent in the Titans' first drive, and Kenny Mixon put an end to the second drive when he stopped Hicks for no gain on fourth-and-1.
But as the first quarter wound down, after Michael Bennett picked up one first down, Daunte Culpepper finally hooked up with Moss deep. Moss beat the safety deep across the middle and was finally brought down on the 1-yard line after gaining 67 yards on the first play of the second quarter. Culpepper capped the drive with a 1-yard lunge on second down, and the Vikings had a 7-0 lead.
After an exchange of punts, Tennessee put together their only scoring drive of half. The big plays came from Kinney, who caught passes of 14 and 19 yards to pick up the only first downs, but with the Titans starting on their own 40-yard line it was enough to get them in field-goal position. Joe Nedney converted with a 27-yarder to make it 7-3 with 5:52 left in the second quarter.
Minnesota, using mostly the first-team offense except for Bennett, answered. Backup running back James Wofford was a big part of the drive, as Tice wanted to see how he performed with the first team. He rushed five times for 21 yards, but the play that put the Vikings in Titans territory was a 20-yard sideline pass to Derrick Alexander after Culpepper scrambled to buy time. Another 15-yarder to Alexander and runs of 11 by Wofford and 10 by Moe Williams put the offense inside Tennessee's 10-yard line. Wofford moved the ball to the 1-yard line with two patient runs, and Moss and Culpepper finished the drive with a 1-yard slant for a touchdown and a 14-3 lead with a minute remaining to close out the first-half scoring.
While the first half wasn't a true test of the best 11-on-11 matchups of two teams, the second half looked like a preseason game all the way.
In the third quarter, the Vikings played Todd Bouman at quarterback and Tennessee went to their third-stringer, Billy Volek, after Neil O'Donnell played the first half. It didn't matter, as neither team could establish a sustained drive. The most exciting play of the quarter came when Titan John Simon fumbled a punt and Nick Murphy, who kicked it for the Vikings, recovered.
But even starting on their own 25-yard line, the Vikings wouldn't capitalize. Doug Brien hooked a 39-yard attempt wide left to keep it a scoreless third quarter.
Sacks by linebacker Andre O'Neal and defensive lineman Talance Sawyer ended two Titans drives, and an O'Neal interception after Brian Russell jarred the ball into the air with a hit on wide receiver Chris Coleman ended another.
About the only intrigue left in the fourth quarter was for those playing the six-point Vikings spread. It was in danger when the Titans took over with 8:19 to play and the Vikings still led 14-3.
Tight end Brian Natkin got a 20-yard reception on second down to move to midfield, and the Titans continued to drive to the 33-yard line. However, a Chuck Wiley sack on third down and an incompletion on fourth down ended that opportunity with 3:20 left in the game.
But after three Jeremy Allen runs netted minus-4 yards, the Vikings were forced to punt back to Tennessee, and the Titans took advantage, going on a nine-play, 47-yard drive that ended with an 8-yard touchdown pass to John Simon with 2 seconds remaining.
Next up isn't necessarily the Pittsburgh Steelers but rather Tuesday's roster cutdown date. Tice said after looking at film it might not be that difficult. For those not with the team on Wednesday, however, the second half of this Titans game could well be the reason.
Vikes Beat Depleted Titans, 14-10
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