Loss Leaves Many Questions

Yesterday, VU said if the Vikes lost to Carolina Sunday, there wouldn't be one player to blame. Following the 21-14 loss, the team echoed those words -- almost verbatim.

It seemed eerily appropriate that, after Sunday's loss to Carolina, a VU writer was walking to his car and a vehicle drove by with it's stereo blasting R.E.M.'s "It's the End of the World and We Know It." While it obviously is not the end of the world for the Vikings, their 0-3 start has dug a hole so deep that playoff considerations are now being put on a deep back burner -- perhaps for the 2002 season. And, unlike the tag line in the R.E.M. song, they don't feel fine.

In yesterday's VU cover story, we pointed out that Daunte Culpepper took the blame for the loss to Chicago and everyone else who saw the loss to Buffalo blamed Doug Brien. We theorized no individual could be blamed for a third straight loss.

Following the game, those words rung a hollow sense of truth. Mike Tice told his team that he didn't want players to take the blame for the loss on themselves, telling VU, "I don't want to see one guy saying 'it was my fault we lost the game.' That's bull. If you look at the field, I would think of 30 guys (that lost the game)."

Culpepper, who played horribly throughout the game and heard a chorus of boos in the second half for perhaps the first time in his career at the Metrodome, followed along the same lines as Tice.

"I'm going to take some of the blame but not one person can take all the blame," Culpepper told VU. "It's a team effort -- a team game. As a whole, offensively we just haven't gotten on a roll yet. Not just Randy, myself, Mike (Bennett)-- everybody."

Culpepper's comments were made at a group press conference that ended as reporters were still asking questions. Culpepper, feeling he had said enough, simply stepped away from the podium -- looking, like many Vikings fans, to just have the entire mess done with.

While the loss surely doesn't end the Vikings season, it puts the missed opportunities into glaring perspective. With home games remaining against tough opponents like Chicago, Green Bay, Atlanta and Miami and, perhaps more frightening, road games vs. Tampa Bay, New England, Green Bay and New Orleans, the Vikings are facing a long, hard road through the rest of 2002. The team can either band together or sink together. It's up to them.

No blame was assigned Sunday. That, if nothing else, is a good thing.

* Controversy Part I -- FOX Sports, which had a field day with Cris Carter's childish meltdown at Chicago last year, saw a golden opportunity for a repeat Sunday as, while walking to bench, Culpepper reacted angrily to a comment made by Moss after the third of his four interceptions. All four of Culpepper's interceptions (the most in a game in his career) were thrown in the direction of Moss and none were really catchable. Tice and Moss both told VU that too much was made of the incident by FOX, which repeatedly showed the blowup throughout the fourth quarter. Culpepper refused to comment on the matter during his brief meeting with the media.
* Controversy Part II -- After the game, it's a tradition that the coaches meet in the middle of the field to shake hands. Tice refused to shake the hand of John Fox, Carolina's head coach and former defensive coordinator of the same New York Giants team that thrashed the Vikings in the 2000 NFC title game. Tice claimed that Fox tried to run up the score by attempting a field goal with eight seconds to play. However, there is a problem with that. While Tice was correct that the Panthers called a time out, there were 47 seconds left on the clock when the mandatory 40-second play clock began. Had the Panthers run a play, there was still a chance that the Vikings could make a stop and attempt a Hail Mary pass for a longshot opportunity to get a win. The time out was called merely to prevent backing the team up five more yards to make a 39-yard field goal attempt even longer. The fact that kicker Jon Hilbert boned the attempt didn't matter to Tice. However, clearer heads would say the Panthers probably weren't looking to rub the Vikings' nose in anything. It may have been smarter to have Rodney Peete roll out and throw the ball high into the air to try to kill of the remaining seven seconds, but VU isn't sure that was reason enough to keep Tice from shaking hands with Fox.
* Linebacker Henri Crockett dislocated his elbow Sunday and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks. As a result, the Vikes are expected to re-sign linebacker Antonio Wilson today. Who will be released has yet to be determined. Wilson was the victim of the cut when the Vikings signed Gary Anderson.
* Two huge ovations came up during Sunday's disappointment. The first was when Anderson trotted out on the field. He got a standing ovation from the crowd and chants of "Gary, Gary" resonated through the Dome. The other was a crunching block made by Moss, who has been criticized for not being an aggressive downfield blocker. He got a huge ovation when he made the hit on LB Mark Fields and a louder cheer when fans saw a slow-motion replay on the Jumbotron.
* Corbin Lacina (concussion) and Kenny Mixon (elbow) were both sidelined during the second half of the game, but neither injury is seen as serious. In the locker room after the game, Mixon ripped the ice bag off his elbow, saying "I've had enough of this."
* A loud, annoying media wag with better inside scoop than most to the trainers for the Vikings claimed Sunday that Culpepper may have an elbow injury that could be potentially serious. If Sunday was any indication, the beating Culpepper has taken has affected him. Several of his throws were extremely off-target.
* The offensive performance wasn't the only problem Sunday. After not showing very good reaction skills on a couple of key completions of long plays, safety Willie Offord was benched in favor of Brian Russell.
* Tice may take some solace in a bad footnote to history for the Vikings. When asked about his 0-3 start, Tice told VU, "I don't think I've been with a team that started 0-3." It surely wasn't the Vikings. It's been 35 years since the team began a year 0-3 -- long before most players other than Anderson were even born. Where's the silver lining in this? The last time the Vikings started 0-3, it was the first season for another new head coach -- Bud Grant in 1967. The Vikings started the year 0-4 and finished with a 3-8-3 record. Two years later, they went to the Super Bowl.
* Tyrone Carter made his first NFL interception Sunday.
* The Vikings coaches praised the defensive scheme employed by the Panthers and Vikings fans are familiar with the architect of the plan. While Fox has been viewed as a defensive wizard with the Giants, his own defensive coordinator is former Vikings LB Jack Del Rio, who schemed the Vikings very well. His defense limited Moss to just four catches for 16 yards -- as many catches as Carolina safeties had on errant Culpepper passes.

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