Too Bad, Too Early

Mike Tice and the Vikings proved once again that a porous pass defense, double-digit penalties and being on the wrong side of even with turnovers will always equal a loss on the road, as they fell to Tampa Bay 38-24.

If it weren't so sad and infuriating for Vikings fans, it would be comical.

Turnovers, penalties and pass defense have been the bane of the Vikings all season. Turnovers were pitiful for two minutes at the end of the first half in Seattle, but the Vikings didn't wait that long Sunday in Tampa, setting an immediate negative tone for the game.

Then after getting behind 24-0 against the Bucs in the first half and coming back to 24-10 by halftime, turnovers spelled the final doom in the second half, as quarterback Daunte Culpepper forced two passes for interceptions.

Meanwhile, Tampa Bay used a surgical passing game from Brad Johnson, who threw five touchdowns, to keep the Vikings defense on the field, and the Bucs continued to score against that defense. By the time the carnage was counted, Johnson was 24-for-31 for 313 yards, five touchdowns and an outrageous 148.5 quarterback rating. Wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, working without his number two and three receivers and who had one touchdown all season, scored two touchdowns with 133 yards receiving.

By the end, the Bucs had a 38-24 win that could have been worse if not for Michael Bennett's 114 yards rushing, including a team-record 85-yard touchdown sprint.

On the first play of the game — the opening kickoff — Nick Davis fumbled when hit high and low, giving Tampa Bay advantageous field position on Minnesota's 21-yard line. It looked like the Buccaneers would get a touchdown with three straight plays to Mike Alstott, but a motion penalty on Keyshawn Johnson called back Alstott's 10-yard touchdown run. It wouldn't matter. On the next play, Brad Johnson found Karl Williams for a 15-yard touchdown, the Bucs' first offensive touchdown in two games, for a 7-0 lead.

The Vikings would look to rebound methodically, but that ensuing drive, too, would self-destruct. Jim Kleinsasser picked up the initial first down with an 11-yard reception and Daunte Culpepper moved the chains again with an 8-yard draw to the 44-yard line. Moe Williams picked up the final first down of the drive to the Bucs' 41-yard line, but the drive fell apart when Culpepper went deep to Randy Moss for a 40-yard touchdown … which then got called back because of holding, forcing a punt.

So the Bucs offense that previously hadn't scored a touchdown in eight quarters took over on its own 14-yard line and drove the remaining 86 yards for another touchdown. Keyshawn Johnson was a big part of the drive, catching passes of 13 and 26 yards on consecutive plays to complement catches of 19 yards by Ken Dilger and 12 yards by Williams to set up goal-to-go on the 8-yard line. After a 6-yard run by Alstott and an incompletion, Brad Johnson found tight end Rickey Dudley cutting across the grain through traffic for a 2-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead with 1:03 left in the first quarter.

While the Vikings defense was busy on the field, the offense couldn't stay on long enough on their second drive, going three-and-out. That set up the Bucs at midfield, and between Alstott and Keyshawn Johnson, they led the offense into field goal position, where Martin Gramatica connected on a 36-yard field goal 2:44 into the second quarter.

Besides one long play and razzle-dazzle, it wouldn't get much better the rest of the first half. On their next drive, the Vikings picked up one first down and then punted.

Aaron Stecker set up Tampa Bay's next touchdown with a drive-opening run of 59 yards, which moved them to the 12-yard line when Tyrone Carter hogtied Stecker out of bounds after the run. One play after Alstott picked up a first down, Brad Johnson found Keyshawn Johnson uncovered in the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown and now a 24-0 lead with 7:16 left in the first half.

After a holding call backed the Vikings up to the 15-yard line, Michael Bennett broke the longest touchdown run in Vikings history, following the lead block of Kleinsasser in the middle of the field, then putting on a burst of speed for an 85-yard touchdown with 6:49 left in the half.

That play had the chance to break the Bucs momentum, and it did somewhat. For the first time in the game, the Bucs didn't score at the end of their drive when Gramatica missed a 40-yard field goal attempt wide left.

Taking over on the 30-yard line with just over two minutes left in the first half, Minnesota used sandlot plays to drive into field goal position. Culepepper scrambled and found Moss for a 9-yard pass and a first down across midfield on the fourth play of the drive, but it would get far wilder two plays later. Facing third-and-18, Culpepper found Chris Walsh at the first-down marker. Walsh took a hit but stayed on his feet, then ran toward the middle of the field instead of going out of bounds. At the 21-yard line he lateraled to Moe Williams, who picked up another 6 yards before being ruled down with time expired. However, as Byron Chamberlain was trying to desperately advance a dead ball, Ronde Barber retaliated for a bump by Cedric James and got caught. That gave the Vikings one more play, which was Gary Anderson connecting on a 26-yard field goal to pull the Vikings to a 24-10 deficit at halftime.

It got better to start the second half. Tampa Bay picked up one first down with a 13-yard run by Alstott, but the Vikings defense held at midfield.

As it would turn out, that would be one of the few times the Vikings would be able to stop the Bucs offense. Despite two second-half touchdowns from Moe Williams — both 1-yard runs — those were only helping the Vikings keep pace, not shrink the deficit.

Brad Johnson continued to get first downs by going to his receivers, and Alstott and Pittman — who combined for only 74 yards rushing — did just enough to keep the clock running. After Keyshawn Johnson scored on a 19-yard pass in the third quarter, Alstott added to the scoring with a 5-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter to give Tampa Bay a season-high 38 points.

Williams' second touchdown with 4:40 left in the game made it 38-24, but after Tampa Bay recovered the onside kick the game was essentially over.

The Vikings continue to be frustrated on the road, having not won away from the Metrodome since Nov. 23, 2000, but they are fortunate (we think) to have back-to-back home games against the New York Giants and Green Bay and now have first-round pick Bryant McKinnie in the fold. That might help them improve on the three sacks they yielded to Tampa Bay, but they will also have to quit turning over the ball and do better than the 11 penalties they sustained Sunday.

It will also help that they don't play Tampa Bay again until 2005.

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