Vikings Play Flawless Game, Make Late Gamble That Pays Off in 32-21 Win
The Saints' defense has haunted them all season long, but until Sunday it hadn't cost them a key playoff-implicating victory.
Daunte Culpepper and the Vikings played a turnover-free game while driving up and down the field against a trouble Saints' defense. Culpepper hurt the Saints all day, scoring two rushing touchdowns and tossing two more. But it was a two-point conversion at the end that won the game, when Culpepper dropped the shotgun snap, grabbed it up, and dove into the end zone for the daring victory. Culpepper gashed the Saints for 73 yards on seven rushing attempts and 312 yards in the air, completing 26 of 36 pass attempts. Randy Moss caught 11 of them for 113 yards and both passing touchdowns, including the game-clinching catch in the end zone between a double-team of Dale Carter and Sammy Knight.
The Saints offense was, as usual, potent. They hung 31 points on the Vikings defense and were nearly as flawless. While the Saints committed no turnovers, a holding penalty on Jerome Pathon erased a 78-yard touchdown run by Deuce McAllister. On that drive, the Saints eventually converted a field goal, but the mistake took crucial points on the board.
Aaron Brooks completed 21 of 33 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns and played the entire game despite a lingering shoulder injury. He was also pressured most of the day and was sacked four times and forced into three more rushing attempts for four yards. Despite at 107.5 quarterback rating, the Saints defense couldn't contain one of the NFL's most prolific offenses in the Vikings that finally put together a mistake-free game. The NFL's fourth-ranked offense, averaging 379.6 yards of total offense a game, had been haunted by fourth-quarter collapses and late crucial mistakes. The team had also been haunted by a long string of losses on the road, dating back to the 2000 season. That is, until Minnesota redeemed themselves on Sunday against the Saints.
RB Deuce McAllister was held in check in the first half but established a rhythm in the second and finished with 69 yards rushing, not including 78 yards that were negated by penalty. McAllister also caught three passes and turned one of them into a juking, jumping 17-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter that gave the Saints an apparent game-winning lead. But with 5:13 left on the clock, the Vikings got the ball back and took all but five seconds off the clock with a 13 play, 73-yard drive that featured four penalties and three third-down conversions. On 3rd and goal from the 13, Culpepper threw his third consecutive pass to Randy Moss. Moss went up and snagged the ball in between a Carter and strong safety Sammy Knight in the back of the end zone.
Instead of kicking the extra point and tying the game at 31, the 3-10 Vikings took a major gamble and went for the two-point conversion. Culpepper's rush put the Vikings up by one with five seconds left. Michael Lewis was stopped at the Saints' 25-yard line on the kickoff return that ended the game.
All of the Saints' wide receivers made big catches on the day, including former Viking Jake Reed who made a tremendous touchdown catch in the second quarter despite defensive pass interference. Joe Horn, Jerome Pathon and Donte Stallworth all caught crucial passes that are now overlooked in light of the loss. Horn led the Saints with five catches for 60 yards as the Vikings played a "bend but don't break" defense that limited the Saints' deep passes. WR Michael Lewis didn't have a catch on offense but scored anyway, continuing his record-breaking season with a 97-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter that capped off 183 kickoff return yards for Lewis on the season. The Saints' porous defense has created many opportunities for the speedy Lewis to return kickoffs this season.
The Saints' coverage teams were outstanding on the day and have been the entire season. The special teams, who have played extremely well all season long, started the game with a reverse on the kickoff return. Lewis handed off to Fred McAfee who raced down to the Vikings' 39-yard line to start the game.
The Saints collected three sacks of the 6'4, 260-pound Culpepper. Darrin Smith led the Saints' defense with 14 total tackles, eight solo and was credited alongside Willie Whitehead with half a sack. Darren Howard and Norman Hand were also credited with sacks. Second year outside linebacker Sedrick Hodge, who was oftentimes lined up one-on-one with wide receivers, had six tackles, four solo.
Backup safety Steve Gleason injured his right knee and missed most of the second half.