Coming off their most impressive win of the season against Green Bay at home, the Vikings had a chance to carry winning momentum and solid play on the road in an effort to break a two-year losing streak away from the Metrodome. Instead, they reverted to the constants in their losses this season — poor defensive play and turnovers from the stars on offense.
Those two factors led to an early lead for the Patriots that they continued to increase to 21-0 throughout the first half before the Vikings shored up their defeciences and made a comeback attempt. Despite three fumbles, eight penalties and two missed field goals, the Vikings found themselves within four points of the lead in the fourth quarter but were unable to finish the comeback, being held scoreless on their last four drives without the services of Michael Bennett, who strained a calf muscle on their last scoring drive.
What it meant was a 16th straight road loss and a 3-8 record for the Vikings after a 24-17 loss to the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.
New England was able to win in part because of Minnesota's turnovers, which left the Patriots with good field position in the first half, but the Patriots defense also contained the Vikings' yardage-makers. Daunte Culpepper threw for 272 yards and two touchdowns, but when it counted New England's schemes appeared to confuse him. Instead, the quarterback was the Vikings' leading rusher with 59 yards, and Bennett had 55 yards on 14 carries before leaving the game in the fourth quarter. Randy Moss, meanwhile, had eight catches for 92 yards but was kept from the explosive play.
The Vikings' game-opening drive looked to give them an early lead, as runs by Michael Bennett, mixed with a 17-yard pass to Randy Moss and 21-yard pass to Byron Chamberlain, moved them from their own 24-yard line to the Patriots 10-yard line. But at second-and-5, Culpepper tried to set up a screen pass to Bennett, who was covered. Wisely, Culpepper didn't try to force it to Bennett in traffic, but the quarterback continued to back-peddle before throwing it away, getting flagged for intentional grounding from the spot of the foul for a 17-yard loss. That backed up the offense enough that Gary Anderson's 43-yard field goal attempt into the wind was low and blocked.
All the Patriots did was take the ball on their own 33-yard line and go on a 12-play drive in which no play was longer than 12 yards. On the third play of the drive, Antowain Smith fumbled and Ronnie Bradford recovered, but he play was reviewed and the call overturned, giving the Patriots new life. They used it to continue on for a 7-0 lead on an 8-yard pass from Tom Brady to tight end Christian Fauria with 3:24 left in the first quarter.
The Vikings punted after six plays, and Brady went back to work, again completing all but one of his passes on an eight-play drive. It started big with a 19-yard pass to David Patten and, four plays later, got near the end zone with a 20-yard pass to Deion Branch. One play later, Brady found Fauria in the end zone again, this time for a 1-yard score and a 14-0 lead with 12:30 left in the first half.
Then the turnovers started for the Vikings — and they came in bunches. Culpepper started it, with his 14th fumble of the season on a scramble at the 30-yard line. The Patriots not only recovered, they capitalized like a championship team.
Brady began with a 17-yard pass to tight end Daniel Graham, and, after a series of short gains and penalties, Brady found himself facing third-and-goal from the 5-yard line. That's when he rifled a shot across the middle to Troy Brown for a 21-0 lead with 8:02 left in the second quarter.
Thanks to a no-huddle offense, the Vikings offense found a rhythm. Moss picked up a first down with a 19-yard catch, and D'Wayne Bates followed with an 18-yard catch on the ensuing play. Culpepper got the next big play with a 19-yard run. But on first-and-goal from the 10-yard line, Bennett fumbled and linebacker Mike Vrabel recovered, taking away another scoring chance for the Vikings.
Despite a questionable 27-yard pass interference call on cornerback Brian Williams on third down, the Vikings defense held on the next set of downs. Even so, this time the offense couldn't get going. Following a Ted Bruschi sack on the first play of the drive, Culpepper found Moss on a crossing pattern, but the receiver took his turn at fumbling and linebacker Roman Phifer recovered at the 31-yard line. The defense held for the second straight time, and finally the offense was able to take advantage.
Going with a no-huddle, Culpepper found Kelly Campbell for 16 yards, followed by a quarterback scramble for 15 yards on the next play. Moss contributed a 7-yard catch, converted to a first down on defensive holding, and Campbell got another reception for 12 yards to the 6-yard line. On first down, Culpepper found Bates for the touchdown for his fourth straight completion on the drive to pull the Vikings to a 21-7 deficit, which they took to the locker room at halftime.
The second half started much better for Minnesota. The Patriots brought the ball across midfield on the opening drive of the second half, but on fourth-and-2 at the 46-yard line the defense stopped Brady a yard short on a QB sneak.
The Vikings had ideal field position but couldn't convert, as the teams traded punts after Chris Hovan's second sack of the game in his college town.
Punting into the wind, however, posed a problem for the Patriots, and the Vikings took over on New England's 44-yard line. Culpepper stayed hot, completing all four of his passes on the Vikings' second touchdown drive of the game. It started with completions of 6 and 10 yards to Campbell and a 5-yarder to Bates. Moe Williams took a handoff up the middle for 14 yards and got to the 5-yard line with another 4-yard run. After a sack, Culpepper found Campbell in the back of the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown, bringing the Vikings to a 21-14 deficit with 4:45 left in the third quarter.
As hot as Brady was to start the game, the Viking defense was finally applying pressure and turned Brady's stats around, forcing four incompletions on the Patriots' next drive.
With runs of 21 yards by Bennett and 17 by Culpepper, the Vikings crossed midfield, and a 10-yard pass to Byron Chamberlain set up Gary Anderson for a 38-yard field goal into the wind. This time he converted, and the Vikings had clawed back to a 21-17 deficit.
But the Patriots answered with a field goal drive of their own, getting there because of the screen pass. With the Vikings defensive line applying pressure, New England used that aggressiveness against them. On second down, Brady rolled right and threw the screen to Smith to the left, and he found open field for 28 yards. On the next play, Brady threw a screen to the right to fullback Marc Edwards, who went for 26 yards. Those two plays put Adam Vinatieri in field goal range, and he was good from 34 yards out to extend the New England lead back to a touchdown at 24-17 with 11:09 to play.
It would prove to be the final score of the game, as the Vikings offense moved the ball but just couldn't put everything together for enough consistency.
Another solid drive from Culpepper and Co. put Minnesota in position to score again, but a 41-yard field goal attempt by Anderson went wide left into the wind. As it turned out, that was their final good opportunity to score, as the Patriots mixed the blitz with solid coverage, and Culpepper couldn't find the rhythm he had previously when the Vikings were running a no-huddle offense.
Once again, it was turnovers that spelled doom for the Vikings on the road. This time they didn't let them snowball into a blowout, but it put them far enough behind that it was too much to recover from.
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