The numbers continue to show what Mike Tice has been preaching all year: Win the turnover battle and you can win the game.
It happened exactly that way, as the only Vikings turnover was a Daunte Culpepper fumble on the 1-yard line, and the defense took it away from the Chicago Bears three times, with the defensive line applying perhaps the most pressure they have all year.
Randy Moss had 119 yards receiving. Michael Bennett had 106 yards rushing. And Culpepper didn't throw any interceptions and ended with a 107.8 rating.
It all added up to a 25-7 Vikings win after they had built a 25-0 lead in the third quarter.
The Vikings took the opening kick and put together an 11-play drive behind conservative but effective play-calling and execution. With no play picking up more than 10 yards, Culpepper didn't force the ball, but the drive ended when Byron Chamberlain dropped the ball on a third-down pass.
The defense allowed a 14-play drive by the Bears, mainly due to three penalties — two on third down — but Chris Hovan and Lorenzo Bromell finally ended it at midfield with a combined sack, forcing a punt.
Culpepper and Bennett continued to move the ball, but on this second drive Randy Moss got involved. He picked up a first down with a 12-yard catch on the third play of the drive and another first down on the sixth play of the drive, moving it to midfield. Moe Williams and Bennett each picked up first downs on passes, but the forward progresses ended there. Gary Anderson came on and put the first points of the game on the board with a 44-yard field goal midway through the second quarter.
A combination of pressuring Chris Chandler and confusion on the Bears offense led to three incompletions in the first four plays of Chicago's second drive, but a 26-yard completion to Dez White allowed the Bears to get to midfield. However, two plays later, Chandler and his receivers apparently had a miscommunication, as the quarterback threw a pass into the middle of the field that only middle linebacker Greg Biekert could catch. He did, and the Vikings were set up at midfield for their first touchdown drive of the game.
They continued their efficient ways, with Chris Walsh picking up a first down on a 13-yard pass and Bennett converting another with a 12-yard run on the next play. Moss and Bennett combined for another chain-mover, and Culpepper nearly finished the drive with a well-designed and executed play. He took the snap, looked and pumped to Moss on the line of scrimmage, then took the quarterback draw 12 yards to the 2-yard line. It took until fourth down, but Williams finally got the touchdown on a 1-yard dive for a 10-0 lead with 5:47 to play in the first half.
The Bears went three-and-out, but punt returner Nick Davis came up with a potential game-breaking play with a 57-yard return to the 14-yard line. It set the Vikings up for the potential 17-0 lead, but a combination of puzzling clock management and a false start forced the Vikings to eventually kick a 24-yard field goal instead of risk having the half end without putting final points on the board. Anderson connected with 3 seconds left, and Minnesota had a 13-0 lead in a half that also had the Vikings leading 1-0 on the turnover battle.
The Minnesota momentum continued to open the second half, too. On third down of Chicago's opening drive Bromell sacked Chandler to force a punt.
The Vikings followed with four plays that continued their trend of safe plays, picking up two first downs, and then going deep for Moss. It worked unlike any other this year, as Culpepper hit Moss in stride in single coverage down the left sideline for a 39-yard touchdown and a 20-0 lead with 4:41 into the second half.
And the defense continued to create big plays.
On the third play of Chicago's next drive, Nick Rogers, making his second start at strongside linebacker, got to Chandler on the blitz and forced the fumble. Biekert was there again, this time in position to recover the ball instead of intercept it.
While the Vikings took over on the Bears 26-yard line and added a 23-yard pass to Moss, the drive would end without points. Scrambling to find the end zone on second down, Culpepper put his head down but also put the ball down on the carpet at the 1-yard line as he was hit from behind by Alex Brown. Safety Mike Green recovered for the Vikings' only turnover of the game, but the Bears were pinned deep.
All it took was one play, a handoff to Thomas, to create a safety. When Fred Robbins and a host of other defenders met Thomas at the goal line and pushed him back, the Vikings were awarded the two points to take a 22-0 lead. It was the first safety for the Vikings since Oct. 24, 1999.
The offense continued to move the ball, starting at the 40-yard line and ending on the 7-yard line after 10 plays. While they couldn't get the ball in the end zone, Anderson did put points on the board, stretching the lead to 25-0.
While the defense had played a great game to that point, they reverted a bit when Chicago went to the passing game exclusively. Passing five times in a row, completing four of them, the aerial attack worked. Marcus Robinson made it onto the stat sheet with a 22-yard catch, and Booker got the touchdown with a 27-yarder on the first play of the fourth quarter to make it 25-7 Vikings.
After that, it got sloppy in a hurry, especially when Chandler was forced out of the game after taking a hit to the chest. Replacement Henry Burris fumbled (but recovered himself) and threw an interception, which helped soften the blow of Kyle Richardson having a punt blocked. It all happened in the fourth quarter, but by the time it was all done it was still Vikings 25, Bears 7.
It was hardly a coincidence that the Vikings won the turnover battle 3-1 and won. The win at least brought them into a tie for the cellar in the NFC North Division and may have helped Daunte Culpepper restore some confidence with a better game mentally.
Culpepper Redeems, Vikings Win
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