Misfiring In The Meadowlands

For the fifth game this season, a loss could be blamed almost exclusively on turnovers, as Daunte Culpepper threw three interceptions and the Vikings lost 20-7 to the New York Jets.

This looked all too familiar. The script: force a very average defense to play overtime by turning the ball over four times — one fumble and three Daunte Culpepper interceptions. The result: another loss.

The New York Jets only put 10 points on the board off those turnovers, but the turnovers and building deficit forced the Vikings out of their rushing offense. By the time Minnesota had finished handing the Jets one chance after another, New York left its home field with a 20-7 win.

Minnesota falls to 1-5 on the season and suffers its 13th straight loss on the road.

Even though Mike Tice said his team could be more relaxed now that they got their first win last week, that didn't appear to translate into the play of Culpepper and Tyrone Carter. Each made crucial mistakes in the first half that put the Vikings in a 10-0 hole.

Culpepper made one bad throw to an open Randy Moss that was intercepted on Culpepper's first pass of the game, then he forced a pass into tight coverage at the goal line on Minnesota's best scoring opportunity of the first half, resulting in a Mo Lewis interception and killing momentum. On the Jets' ensuing drive, cornerback Tyrone Carter threw a receiver down out of bounds after coming up short on third down to keep the Jets' touchdown-scoring drive alive.

Culpepper's two interceptions and Carter's penalty were enough to put the Vikings behind, but the defense played just well enough that it didn't get out of hand too early.

The Jets started with the ball and delivered a good dose of running back Curtis Martin. He got the call on half the plays, but the first two runs for no gain nearly ended New York's initial drive early. But, facing third-and-10, QB Chad Pennington hit Santana Moss for a 20-yard gain. Then came passes of 14 yards to Wayne Chrebet, 7 yards to Laveranues Coles and a 16-yard run by Martin. Coles added to the drive with a 7-yard reverse, and Chrebet picked up the final first down of the drive with a 9-yard catch. If it seems like nearly every offensive player got into the act, they did. The Jets used 12 plays and got into field goal position, from 38 yards outs, and John Hall put them up 3-0.

Culpepper's first interception went right to Donnie Abraham, setting up the Jets on the Vikings 48-yard line. Martin started that drive with an 18-yard run, and Coles later added a 21-yard reception on third down, but Kenny Mixon and Chris Hovan ended the forward progress with a sack of Pennington. Lance Johnstone ensured that no points were scored when he blocked Hall's 31-yard field goal attempt, and the Vikings looked to take the lead.

They nearly did, but at the end of an impressive 18-play drive, a poor decision by Culpepper took that opportunity away. Starting on their own 15-yard line, the Vikings featured Michael Bennett time and again, to the tune of seven times for 32 yards. Mixed in between were passes of 8 yards to Byron Chamberlain, 8 to D'Wayne Bates, 8 more to Chamberlain, 3 to Jim Kleinsasser, 6 to Moe Williams, 7 to Chris Walsh and an 8-yard Culpepper run. But when it came down to third-and-4 from the 7-yard line, Culpepper looked to Walsh for the second consecutive play and forced it into coverage. Mo Lewis came out with the ball and returned it to the 16-yard line.

After a false start and two Martin runs for no gain, Pennington completed a pass to Santana Moss near the first down, but Moss attempted to make more of the play and backed up short of the first down. While Tyrone Carter stopped Moss short of the marker, he continued the tackle well out of bounds and was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, giving New York a new set of downs. Nine plays later — including an 18-yard pass to Coles and a 22-yard screen to Martin — the Jets via Coles found the end zone on a 7-yard pass. With 2:28 left in the half, New York had their 10-0 lead, which held up until halftime.

Little changed in the second half. With Randy Moss held catchless in the first half, it was New York's Santana Moss (he finished with five catches for 111 yards) who was making the big plays.

The Vikings picked up two first downs on Bennett runs, but a lack of confidence and range in the kicking game showed when Tice elected to punt from the Jets 31-yard line.

All the Jets needed to do was move 90 yards, and all it took was six plays. Santana Moss picked up one first down and much more with a 34-yard post pattern. That was followed by a 28-yard pass to Coles and a 17-yarder to Chrebet to the 4-yard line. From there, Martin finished the drive on first down with a 4-yard touchdown run off-tackle. Just like that, the game was beginning to get out of hand with a 17-0 lead with 7:07 remaining.

Minnesota put together another solid drive, but again the offense self-destructed. Culpepper got Randy Moss involved with a 46-yard pass that could have been a touchdown had Culpepper led Moss to the middle of the field. One play later, Bennett was stripped of the ball by Mo Lewis with Marvin Jones recovering on the 18-yard line.

While the defense bent but didn't break, Culpepper put the dagger in the Vikings' hopes. He got the ball to Moss for the second time in the game, a 22-yard gain, and found consecutive first downs to Bates with passes of 26 and 13 yards. However, facing first-and-10 from the 31-yard line, Culpepper lofted a pass under pressure that floated too much and allowed safety Damien Robinson to get to Moss in coverage in the end zone for the interception.

Although New York was backed up to its own 7-yard line, it quickly got out of trouble. Again it was a penalty on Tyrone Carter that did it. Trying to cover Coles on second down, Carter grabbed Coles' facemask to give the Jets another first down. A 22-yard pass to Santana Moss and passes of 15 and 13 yards to running back LaMont Jordan put New York in field goal position. Hall converted the 38-yarder to give New York a 20-0 lead with too little time to give the Vikings a realistic shot

With only a smidgen of pride to play for, the Vikings finally found the end zone. Culpepper started the drive with two passes to Derrick Alexander for a combined 21 yards, then Moe Williams for 9 yards. Chamberlain and Randy Moss combined to cover 11 yards on consecutive passes, and Bates added 18 more yards to get the ball to the 10-yard line. From there, Williams capped the drive with three runs to get into the end zone.

It meant little, except that the Vikings thereby avoided the shutout, losing 20-7, as mistakes — four turnovers and a few costly penalties — took down Minnesota for the 13th straight road loss.

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