All-Out Comeback, 31-24

Michael Bennett got the game ball, Daunte Culpepper avoided multiple turnovers and the defense shut down the run. It all added up to a 31-24 win, the first of the season.

It's a win. It was pretty to start, but for the first time in 2002, when the last seconds ticked off the clock, Mike Tice and the Vikings had a win.

Once again, the Vikings dug themselves into an early hole. But this time they stayed the course and were able to come back from an early 14-0 lead. It came because of Michael Bennett's 138 combined yards, Daunte Culpepper's 105.7 quarterback rating, the defense holding Detroit to 53 yards rushing and because the Vikings finished even on the turnover ratio.

In other words, it was a team effort in a 31-24 NFC North Division win. The Vikings improved to 1-4; the Lions fell to 1-4.

The Vikings went into self-destruct mode early. Nick Davis returned the first kick 39 yards, and the offense promptly went three-and-out. Doug Chapman returned the next kickoff to the Vikings 39-yard line, but a holding call on that return brought them back to the 16-yard line.

But in between those returns, the defense — playing with two inexperienced linebackers, Antonio Wilson and Patrick Chukwurah — bit on a play-fake, and Joey Harrington found Mikhael Ricks wide open behind everyone for a 41-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.

It became a 14-point deficit in a hurry, as Culpepper hit Derrick Alexander in the hands on a slant pass. The ball bounced off Alexander's hands and into linebacker Chris Claiborne's outstretched hands at the 20-yard line. He returned it to the end zone for a 14-0 lead only 6:21 into the game.

The offense finally took advantage of good field position on the next drive, starting on the Lions 49-yard line after another 39-yard kick return from Chapman. An 18-yard pass to Alexander put them in field goal position, and Gary Anderson connected from 42 yards out to end the first quarter at 14-3.

After a defensive stop, the Vikings drove the length of the field in what could have been a confidence-building drive. Culpepper picked up a first down with a 22-yard rollout and scramble. Then two 13-yard pickups — a pass to Randy Moss and a run by Bennett — put the ball in scoring position. A 7-yard run by Culpepper and a 13-yard pass to Alexander put the ball on 5-yard line, and facing third-and-goal from the 1-yard line a play-action pass to Jim Kleinsasser found a little too much air under it for comfort, but the tight end made a good comeback effort for the touchdown catch to open the second-quarter scoring and bring the Vikings within four points at 14-10.

After an inspired defensive stop on two consecutive runs that needed 1 yard to move the chains— the second stop coming from Kenny Mixon and Greg Biekert on fourth down — the teams traded punts. But when the Lions ended up with it, it was too easy.

The Detroit drive started moving forward with a 20-yard pass to Bill Schroeder on second-and-19. Fullback Cory Schlesinger, who appeared to be a big part of the Lions' offensive plans in the first half, moved the chains with a 10-yard catch, and a 15-yard pass to Hakim and a 24-yarder to Schlesinger set up the Lions on the 20-yard line. It would only take one pass to the end zone for the score by Hakim and a 21-10 lead that held up until halftime.

The Vikings answered with another strong kickoff return to open the second half, and this time Minnesota's offense took advantage of starting on the 41-yard line. Kleinsasser picked up the initial first down, and Moss followed with a 12-yarder. Bennett moved the chains for the third time in the drive with a 14-yard run. A 9-yard pass to Moe Williams and a 7-yard run by Bennett put the Vikings in goal-to-go position, then Culpepper capped it with a 7-yard quarterback draw to pull within four points again with 9:51 left in the third quarter.

The Lions drove past midfield and got Jason Hanson into range, and he put Detroit back in front by a touchdown with a 49-yard field goal with 3:44 to play in the third quarter.

It stayed that way for a series of exchanged punts, until the Vikings got the ball back midway into the fourth quarter, when they took it 90 yards in seven plays.

Kleinsasser started the drive with catches of 10 and 13 yards, and Moss and Bennett combined to pick up the next first down. Chamberlain and Culpepper combined to move the chains for the fourth time in the drive. Then it was Bennett, who had been the focal point of the running game, catching a screen and finding his way down the right sideline and cutting back to find open field for the touchdown and a 24-24 tie with 5:25 to play.

Just as the Vikings offense was finally showing signs of consistency, the defense picked it up, too. After an incompletion by Harrington and a 2-yard loss on a run by James Stewart, Chris Hovan batted it backwards to force a punt.

Bennett's touchdown seemed to invigorate the offense, as they came back with another solid touchdown-scoring drive. The last drive started with Byron Chamberlain on a 16-yard pass to midfield. After a 5-yard run and an incompletion, Culpepper scrambled left and bought time. Eventually he found Moss cutting right across the middle of the field and threw across the grain to the 2-yard line. Moe Williams capped the comeback with a 2-yard dive up the gut to give the Vikings their first lead of the game, 31-24 with 2:12 to play.

While the defense again gave the fans reason for apprehension, they came through at the very end. Cornerback Corey Chavous started with a 15-yard pass interference penalty, but nine plays later he ended the game with an interception in the end zone.

It took a comeback at home against a one-win team, but the 2002 Vikings and Mike Tice got their first win.



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