Done at last. The Vikings' 17-game road losing streak is done at last.
Why had the Vikings lost 17 straight road games? They weren't making plays when it counted … or were giving up plays when they couldn't afford to.
They did a little of that in the fourth quarter in New Orleans, but in the end they overcame and won with five seconds left — really, they did — 32-31.
Carrying a one-point lead late into the fourth quarter, the Vikings defense couldn't stop the New Orleans offense when it needed to most. With the Saints facing third-and-13 from the 17-yard line, quarterback Aaron Brooks unloaded a pass to Deuce McAllister, and Greg Biekert and Brian Williams overran a chance to tackle McAllister short of the first down. He found the end zone and the Saints grabbed a seven-point lead with 5:21 remaining.
On this Sunday, December 15, 2002, however, the Vikings responded and won it. They didn't panic and they didn't turn over the ball.
Instead, Daunte Culpepper led the Vikings on a 13-play drive that was capped with a wild final seven plays before Culpepper found Randy Moss in the end zone on a 13-yard pass with five second remaining. Trailing by one point, head coach Mike Tice was willing to put the streak on the line with one snap of a two-point conversion. It was a snap that Culpepper fumbled — but recovered — and ran into the end zone for a two-point conversion … and a one-point road win, 32-31, in New Orleans.
It was arguably Culpepper's best game in almost two years. He was under pressure from an athletic Saints defense nearly the whole game, but he completed 26 of 36 passes for 312 yards and two touchdowns — without an interception — for a 116.9 rating. He looked mostly confident and decisive in his reads and hit the Randy Ratio, completing 11 passes to Moss for 113 yards. The offense amassed 439 total net yards and didn't turn over the ball, and the defense held the Saints to 299 yards of offense.
The game opened with a flurry of scoring and big plays, and it lasted throughout the first half.
It started with New Orleans' 51-yard game-opening kickoff return on a reverse to Fred McAfee, but after a 14-yard run by Deuce McAllister the Saints had to settle for a 40-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.
While the Saints used special teams to get their scoring, it was all offense for Minnesota. Randy Moss started with a 25-yard run on a reverse on the team's first offensive play. On the third play, Culpepper rattled off an 18-yard draw, and on the fourth play Bennett took a 16-yard run to the 9-yard line. Bennett continued the ground assault with a 5-yard run, and Culpepper capped the drive with a 4-yard draw for a touchdown and a 7-3 lead.
A traditional kickoff return for the Saints brought the ball to the 35-yard line, but they quickly went backwards on consecutive sacks by Chris Hovan and Corey Chavous, and the Vikings took over on their own 29-yard line after a punt.
On this drive, it was the passing game that moved the ball. Moss converted a third down with a 16-yard catch, and Chamberlain did the same three plays later with a 17-yard reception. Third down was the charm for the Vikings, as Kelly Campbell caught a 31-yard fade pass after Culpepper unloaded in the face of a blitz. One play later, Culpepper finished the drive with a 5-yard scramble for a touchdown when New Orleans brought the heat again. With 1:01 left in the first quarter, the Vikings led 14-3.
It lasted only as long as it took Michael Lewis to return the ensuing kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. Lewis' big hole was created in the middle of the field when linebacker Patrick Chukwurah ran from his lane in the middle and cut to his left. Lewis exposed the hole and was gone, cutting the Vikings' lead to 14-10 to close out the first-quarter scoring.
The Vikings continued to move the ball on offense. Bennett picked up a first down with a 19-yard run and added 6 yards two plays later. Facing third-and-4 from the 50-yard line, Culpepper found Bennett in the flat and unloaded the ball before taking a hit. Bennett exposed the left sideline for 35 yards, and the Vikings were in scoring position again. However, two sacks on the next three plays nearly took Gary Anderson out of range, but the veteran kicker was true from 41 yards out to give the Vikings a 17-10 lead with 11:59 to play in the first half.
New Orleans answered with a field goal drive of its own. On the 10th play of a 12-play drive, Brooks finally threw his first incompletion of the game. On the next play, Lance Johnstone and Kenny Mixon combined for a sack and forced John Carney onto the field for a 34-yard field goal with 5:25 left in the half.
The Vikings offense picked up two first downs, but it couldn't take enough time off the clock to hurry the Saints on their next drive. With 2:21 left in the half, the Saints took over and drove the length of the field easily. Joe Horn picked up a first down with an 18-yard catch, and Donte Stallworth converted a third down with a 15-yard reception. Facing third-and-18 from the 35-yard line, Brooks lofted a pass deep down the middle of the field to Jake Reed, who shoved off of Chavous and caught the ball at the goal line for a touchdown and the Saints' second lead of the game, 20-17, with 53 second left.
As it turned out, that would be too much time for the Vikings. Bennett started with a 21-yard screen play, and Culpepper crossed midfield with a 19-yard scramble. On the third play of the drive, Moss picked up another first down with a 10-yard catch, but Culpepper gave back 3 yards and burned the final time out after Darren Howard's sack. It wouldn't matter, however, when Culpepper fired a perfect pass to Moss in single coverage in the middle of the field for a 33-yard touchdown and a 24-20 halftime lead.
After an exchange of three punts to start the half, the Saints pulled within one point, 24-23, on a long 14-play field goal drive that saw only one incomplete pass from Brooks. But once New Orleans pierced the red zone the Vikings defense stiffened and forced Carney into a 27-yard field goal.
As the game moved to the fourth quarter, the Vikings were only able to muster one first down before punting to New Orleans, but the defense clamped down on the Saints — with the teams exchanging three more punts before New Orleans started its final touchdown drive.
The Saints started on their own 26, and Brooks converted third-and-7 into a first down with a 20-yard pass to Jerome Pathon. McAllister converted third-and-2 into a first down with a 16-yard run, then, three plays later, converted third-and-13 into a 17-yard touchdown with 5:21 remaining in the game. When Horn caught the two-point conversion, the Saints had a 31-24 lead.
Since the Vikings hadn't scored in the second half, it was looking like another loss. But they took that opportunity to end their misfortunes. Culpepper engineered one of the more gutty and persistent drives of the season. On third-and-1 he hooked up with Moss for 9 yards. Culpepper picked up another first down with a 12-yard run, then hit Moss for 9 more yards on another third down. On the third third-down play of the drive, Byron Chamberlain caught a pass across the middle and continued to keep his feet until he was brought down after 15 yards at the 8-yard line.
Then it got messy in the final minute. Facing first-and-goal on the 3, Moss was called for pass interference in the end zone while catching a touchdown. Make it first-and-goal from the 13-yard line. Correction. After a 5-yard offside penalty on Charles Grant, it became first-and-goal from the 8-yard line. After two incompletions, Corbin Lacina was flagged for a false start. So, facing third-and-goal from the 13-yard line again, Culpepper fired a pass to the fingertips of Moss, who hauled in the touchdown with five seconds left. When Culpepper crossed the goal line on the two-point conversion the streak had ended with a 32-31 win.
This time, the Vikings had made the plays they needed to win on the road. This time — for the first time in more than two years — they could fly home victors.
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