Opportunities Lost, Game Lost

Buffalo got the breaks and took advantage of them when they absolutely had to, while Daunte Culpepper struggled down the stretch again with four fumbles behind a banged up and reeling offensive line. Throw in two missed extra points, and it all added up to a 45-39 overtime loss.

Everything Vikings fans wanted for excitement; nothing they wanted in results.

The Vikings offense put points on the board, the defense created numerous opportunities for turnovers; but when the Vikings really needed it they couldn't produce in a 45-39 overtime loss against Buffalo in the Metrodome.

The Vikings move to 0-2 on the season; the Bills are 1-1.

The Bills gave Minnesota opportunities, but one missed field goal, two missed extra points, five Vikings fumbles (two recovered by Minnesota) and no turnovers by the Bills were the crucial stats.

After fumbling once in overtime and recovering another fumble late in the fourth quarter, Bills quarterback Drew Bledsoe led Buffalo's receiving game through a tiring Vikings defense on the final drive in overtime. It took only two plays, as tight end Jay Riemersma brought the Bills to midfield with a 28-yard catch, and Peerless Price finished the game with a 48-yard touchdown reception with 4:48 left in overtime.

The Vikings had their chances, as two missed extra points and a missed field goal during regulation by Doug Brien allowed the Bills to stay within range and Mike Hollis to kick the game-tying field goal with no time left from 54 yards, a kick that bounced off the crossbar and through to tie the game 39-39.

Minnesota rebounded and shut down the Bills to start overtime, but they also gave up a chance for their best field position of the period when Bledsoe fumbled at midfield and Mike Williams recovered a ball that could have been covered by the Vikings.

But the offense didn't help, as it went off the field in three plays both times they had the opportunity to move the ball and give the defense a rest.

The Bills' second drive ended with Hollis missing a 44-yard field goal two plays after a Lorenzo Bromell back Buffalo up 9 yards, which could have been the difference between the make and the miss.

On the Vikings' next drive, a third-down incompletion to Randy Moss on a hitch-and-go set up the Bills' winning drive.

The game saw other opportunities lost as well, with three turnovers to none for Buffalo, and a missed opportunity to take more time off the clock at the end of regulation. The Vikings took a 39-36 lead with 26 seconds left in the game, but two time outs taken by the Vikings before that may have left too much time on the clock. However, Vikings coach Mike Tice said after the game he didn't think they left too much time on the clock; instead, he said the ensuring kickoff wasn't executed properly and should have been squib-kicked through the wedge but it didn't get through. So the Bills started on the 35-yard line and used three plays to get to the Vikings 36-yard line to set up Hollis' 54-yard game-tying field goal as time in the fourth quarter expired.

The game opened with the Vikings taking a 3-0 lead after their second drive of the game. The big play came when Culpepper rolled to his right and, instead of running, lobbed a pass for Moss down the sideline in which Moss brought in with a toe-dragging catch for 31 yards. The offense continued to pick up first downs with a mixed of running and passing, with two passes to Jim Kleinsasser and runs by Culpepper and Moe Williams. But, despite getting to the 4-yard line for a first down, the offense stalled on two incompletions and a sack of Culpepper. Doug Brien gave Minnesota the lead with a 29-yard field goal.

The Bills answered on their next drive, going 46 yards on eight plays to get into field goal position. Travis Henry and Peerless Price gained the majority of the yardage, with Henry getting a 17-yard run and Price catching a 21-yard pass to get across midfield. The drive fell apart after that, however, and Mike Hollis nailed a 52-yard field goal.

The Vikings gave Buffalo another shot soon afterwards when Culpepper was hit from behind by linebacker Keith Newman and tackle Justin Bannan recovered on the 27-yard line. That would be the last play of the half for Everett Lindsay, who left the game with back spasms and was replaced by recently acquired Adam Haayer.

Much like the Vikings, the Bills drove near the end zone but couldn't capitalize. Passes to Price and rookie Josh Reed picked up one first down, but once at the 11-yard line a 2-yard run by Travis Henry and 7-yard pass to Eric Moulds followed an incompletion and left the Bills a yard short of a first down. From the 2-yard line, they settled for a field goal of 20 yards and took the 6-3 lead with 30 seconds left in the first quarter.

Culpepper and the Vikings did one better, as the QB led the offense on a 72-yard, 11-play drive to score the first touchdown of the game. The Vikings got the early break in the drive when Culpepper was sacked and Chris Liwienski was called for the hold, but instead of moving back, they moved forward and got a fresh set of downs when linebacker London Fletcher was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. It was the spark the Vikings needed.

Doug Chapman ripped off a 27-yard run on the next play, and the offense ground it out from there. After a 4-yard pass to Moss, two runs by Bennett picked up the first down, but that would be followed by some heavy decision-making. After Culpepper ran twice, the Vikings were facing with third-and-1 at the 2-yard line. A fade pass to Moss nearly got the touchdown, but cornerback Nate Clement knocked the ball loose before Moss' feet hit the end zone turf. Now, facing fourth-and-1 from the 2, Tice called back the field goal unit and decided to go for the touchdown. He was rewarded when Culpepper faked the handoff and bootlegged to the right, outracing the pursuit to the end zone for a 10-6 lead with 8:54 left in the half.

When the defense held steady and forced a Patriots punt, the Vikings had another chance to score. It started on the 27-yard line with a 15-yard pass to Moss, who followed with a 5-yard reverse. Another Bills penalty helped out the Vikings, as Clements was called for interference on Derrick Alexander for 17 yards. Moe Williams picked up a first down and, after an 8-yard sack of Culpepper by Aaron Schobel, Culpepper moved the chains again when he threaded a pass into Chris Walsh for 16 yards. But once on the 7-yard line, two incompletions and a 3-yard run by Williams weren't enough, and the Vikings settled for a 22-yard field goal and a 13-6 lead with 2:13 to play in the half.

That would prove to be far too much time for Bledsoe operating against the Vikings defense. He hit Moulds for 11 yards, then tight end Jay Riemersma for 10 yards. After an incompletion, Larry Centers got free for 14 yards, but the big play came when Price reversed his direction on the next play and went 38 yards to the 9-yard line. On first-and-goal, Bledsoe found Reed for the touchdown to tie the game with 1:06 left in the half.

The Vikings drove into field goal position in the remaining time, with 15-yard to Moss moving the ball across midfield and 21-yard to Moss picking up a first down on fourth-and-15. However, as time expired, Brien's 44-yard attempt hit the left upright to keep the game tied at 13 at halftime.

For all the struggles by both teams to get the ball in the end zone in the first half after moving it close, the second half featured long plays right away.

After the Vikings defense held Bledsoe to three straight incompletions, D'Wayne Bates returned a punt 61 yards to the 3-yard line. On second down, Moss made a one-handed catch in the end zone look easy, as the Vikings took a 20-13 lead.

But the lead wouldn't last long, as Charlie Rogers took the ensuing kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown to tie the game at 20— and it would get even worse.

On the next series, Culpepper fumbled at the Vikings 35-yard line and Kenrick Office recovered. That led to another Hollis field goal and a 23-20 Bills lead with 6:14 left in the third quarter.

Minnesota answered with a 63-yard drive capped with a 29-yard pass to Bates to regain the lead at 26-23 with 4:44 to play. But Brien's troubles started there. He missed the point-after touchdown kick and kept the Bills within three points.

But the Vikings offense provided another big play for Buffalo. On his next possession, Culpepper was sacked from behind by Aaron Schobel and stripped of the ball. After having the ball bounce between the 10-yard line and the end zone, defensive tackle Ron Edwards recovered at the goal line for a 30-26 Bills lead with 14:01 left in the fourth quarter.

Again, the Vikings offense wouldn't go quietly, this time driving 82 yards with two Williams runs accounting for 25 of those yards. Bates converted a third-down play with a 17-yard catch, and Alexander finished the drive with a 5-yard catch. Then Brien missed his second PAT of the day, and the Vikings only had a two-point lead at 32-30.

The Bills capitalized as Bledsoe went to the air. He connected with rookie Josh Reed for 28 yards, which had more tacked on when Eric Kelly grabbed and held onto the face mask. Passes to Reed and Price moved the ball to the 1-yard line and, despite a fumble by Travis Henry that was recovered by Bledsoe, the Bills found the end zone on the next play with a pass to Price. This time it was Buffalo missing the point(s) after when the Bills attempted a two-point pass that failed with 4:14 left to play in regulation. That would hold the Bills lead to four at 36-32.

The would take advantage of good field position, starting on the 40-yard line, and they would score a touchdown. But, once again, it was too much time for an opposing offense that had found its passing rhythm. Despite a 39-36 lead with only 26 left, the victory was held off again when Hollis' kick bounced over the crossbar from 54 yards out with no time left.

And when Price scored again in overtime on the Bills' third possession of the period, the Vikings' misfortunes were sealed.



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