0-3 ... And Ugly

The Vikings continued to lose the turnover battle, with Daunte Culpepper throwing four interceptions, which led to their third loss in the three games this season.

This time, there was no final-minute collapse, but there was still no win at the end of the game for the Vikings.

Instead, Daunte Culpepper's rough start to the 2002 season continued. The quarterback threw four interceptions — three of them while attempting to connect with Randy Moss — and fumbled two more times, losing one.

Despite a 7-0 lead at halftime, those turnovers put the Vikings defense in too many precarious situations and eventually Carolina started scoring with their opportunities, putting up 21 straight points in the third and fourth quarters before hanging on for a 21-14 win.

The Vikings fall to an ugly 0-3 as head coach Mike Tice searches for his first win; the Panthers move to 3-0.

The opening quarter looked more like a game of volleyball with the teams exchanging possessions in a variety of ways.

The Minnesota defense allowed the Panthers to get to midfield on their opening drive, but Greg Biekert held Wesley Walls to a catch of 1 yard on third-and-3 from the 49-yard line. However, the Vikings couldn't take advantage, despite two explosive plays. On the opening play of the drive, Culpepper avoided defensive end Julius Peppers to set up the screen to Michael Bennett. Bennett found open field and David Dixon in front for a 24-yard gain to the 41-yard line, followed by a 9-yard run by Bennett. But Culpepper ended the drive with a third-down loft to Moss that was intercepted by safety Mike Minter at the 7-yard line.

After 10 plays — the most significant a 21-yard pass to Muhsin Muhammad that had 15 yards added because of Lance Johnstone's roughing the passer — the Panthers gave it back when replacement kicker Jon Hilbert kept a 45-yard field goal wide left.

Culpepper gave it right back on the Vikings' second play in the next drive when he threw high for Moss and Deon Grant intercepted and returned it to the Panthers 36-yard line.

The Panthers' possession wouldn't last long, as Rodney Peete returned the favor on their third play of the drive. Corey Chavous read the receiver route and jumped Peete's pass for the interception and ensuing return down the left sideline for 33 yards to the 17-yard line.

The offense took advantage, with Moe Williams converting a first down on runs of 6 yards and a hard run bouncing off tackles to the 1-yard line. Bennett got the touchdown on the next play with a 1-yard dive for a 7-0 Vikings lead — yep, Gary Anderson made the extra point — to start the second quarter.

Tyrone Carter followed Chavous' lead on the next possession, picking off Peete's first pass attempt of the next drive when Biekert tipped Peete's pass in the middle of the field Carter's way. This time, however, the Vikings couldn't capitalize, punting it back to the Panthers after three plays.

That would be the theme for the rest of the first half, as neither team could sustain a drive in their last four attempts, and the Vikings took a 7-0 lead into halftime despite being outgained in net yards 165 to 89.

While the offense was anemic in the first half, it only got worse to start the second half. On consecutive drives, Culpepper was sacked twice (to end the first drive), punted on three-and-out (on the second drive), and Culpepper threw an interception on the second play of the third drive. Of four passes intended for Moss to that point, he caught one for a 5 yards to start the second half and had three of them intercepted.

The last of those interceptions at that juncture set the Panthers up on the Vikings 28-yard line — and it took only two plays to tie the game. Lamar Smith started with a 14-yard run, then Steve Smith caught the scoring pass from 14 yards in the middle of the field with 5:14 in the third quarter.

Another sack of Culpepper put the Vikings in the hole on the next drive, and even a 17-yard scramble wouldn't pick up a first down. The Vikings punted, and Carolina showed them how to take advantage of mistakes.

Lamar Smith picked up one first down with rushes of 6 and 9 yards, and Wesley Walls got the next chain-mover with a 20-yard catch. From the 44-yard line, it was simply too easy. Steve Smith caught a 32-yard pass, and Lamar Smith ran for 12 yards and a touchdown on the next play — putting the Panthers up 14-7 with 13:28 left in the game.

The Minnesota offense continued to put its own defense in dire straits, and this time it was the first lost fumble of Bennett's career on the second play of the drive that gave it right back to Carolina.

Once again, it was the Panthers taking advantage.

Starting from the Vikings 48-yard line, Lamar Smith picked up a first down with rushes of 7 and 6 yards, but Johnstone back up the Panthers with a sack that didn't dissuade the Panthers. Carolina continued to drive, with Isaac Byrd starting it again with a 19-yard pass to the 23-yard line, then, after two plays and a penalty netted minus-1 yards, Lamar Smith picked up the score with a 24-yard touchdown run. That put Carolina up 21-7 with 7:54 to play.

The offense came together for one final scoring drive, this time coming out in the no-huddle for a 91-yard drive. Moss started it with a 6-yard catch, and Culpepper picked up the first down with an 11-yard run. D'Wayne Bates picked up another first down with an 18-yard pass, and Derrick Alexander moved the chains again with a 12-yard pass, his only catch of the game. After a 2-yard pass to Moss, Moe Williams broke free for a 36-yard pass to the 4-yard line, and Culpepper capped the drive with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Chris Walsh with 3:29 to play to pull the Vikings within a touchdown at 21-14.

But, despite the defense stopping the Panthers on three plays, the offense couldn't take advantage. After one completion to Moss — another short one of 4 yards — and two incompletions, Culpepper took off running on fourth-and-7, only to gain 1 yard.

Carolina settled for running the ball, but a 39-yard field goal went wide left again for Hilbert with only four seconds left. The final play, appropriately enough, was a desperation pass from Culpepper to Moss that was intercepted by Grant, his third interception of the game and Culpepper's fourth thrown interception.

Tice said afterward that he could find 30 players to blame, but with four interceptions and a 52.9 QB rating, Culpepper will surely find the majority of tomorrow morning's blame falling on his broad shoulders.

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