Culpepper throws for 425 yards, five touchdowns as Vikings outgun Saints
Monday, October 18, 2004
By Jeff Duncan
The stench of burned rubber permeated the Poydras Street corridor in the Central Business District on Sunday night.
Superdome officials might have to replace the new Momentum Turf after the way the Minnesota Vikings singed it in a 38-31 defeat of the Saints before a sellout crowd at the Superdome and a national television audience.
By the time the 3 ÃƒÂ‚Ã‚Â½-hour scorched-turf exhibition was completed, the Vikings had amassed 605 total yards, the most by a Saints opponent in the club's 38-year history. The previous mark was 552 by the Atlanta Falcons on Sept. 2, 1979. It was the Vikings' second-highest yardage output in the team's 44-year history.
Quarterback Daunte Culpepper, the Vikings' chief arsonist, passed for a career-high 425 yards and five touchdowns while completing 26 of 37 passes. It was his third game with five touchdown passes this season, which is an NFL record. His previous high was 396 yards against the Oakland Raiders on Nov. 16, 2003.
Culpepper's scoring passes came in all lengths and varieties. He threw short strikes of 1 and 9 yards to tight end Jermaine Wiggins and another 1-yarder to Marcus Robinson. He hit Robinson for an intermediate scoring completion of 16 yards, and he launched a 43-yard scoring pass to Randy Moss.
The onslaught started early and did not let up for four quarters. The Vikings opened the game with a 46-yard pass from Culpepper to Moss. They ended it with a 49-yard run by Moe Williams on their third-to-last play.
The Vikings did not punt. Their 11 offensive series ended in five touchdowns, a field goal, two interceptions, a fumble and with time expiring at the end of each half.
For much of the game, the Vikings averaged more than 10 yards a play. They finished with an 8.9-yard average on 68 plays.
The yardage came in huge chunks. They had 14 gains of 17 yards or more, including passes of 46 and 43 yards to Moss as well as two 36-yard strikes and a 28-yard completion to Nate Burleson.
Seven Vikings receivers caught passes, and each one had a gain of at least 13 yards.
"We play man-to-man, we're jamming them. . . . I'm kind of lost to be honest with you," Saints coach Jim Haslett said. "They've got a hell of a football team, especially on the offensive side."
Culpepper was at his best on third down. Unofficially, he was 8-of-10 for 128 yards and three touchdowns.
As a result, Minnesota converted eight of 11 third downs, each one sending Saints defensive coordinator Rick Venturi into increasing states of emotional sideline antics. Culpepper's passer efficiency rating was 125.6.
"He's a great quarterback," Haslett said. "He did a phenomenal job. We just didn't make any plays."
The Saints were hoping the debut of cornerback Mike McKenzie would provide a boost to their defense, but the fifth-year cornerback looked rusty and was beaten for a couple of big plays, including the 43-yard score to Moss. It got so bad, McKenzie was removed from the game for an extended period in the second and third quarters.
"I didn't play well that first go-round," McKenzie said. "I kind of let my team down in some respects."
The Saints forced three turnovers, including interceptions by Ashley Ambrose and Fakhir Brown and a combined 44-yard fumble return by Jay Bellamy and Ambrose. But otherwise, they were helpless to stop the Purple Rain of yards and points.
The record-breaking performance raised the Vikings' record to 4-1. The Saints, meanwhile, fell to 2-4 after their third consecutive loss. It was their third loss in four games at home.
"It's attitude," Saints defensive end Charles Grant said.
The Vikings gashed the Saints' defense for 365 yards in the first half, when they averaged 10.4 yards a play. In the half, Culpepper passed for 284 yards and three touchdowns. Former Tulane running back Mewelde Moore rushed for 82 yards on nine carries, a 9.1-yard average, for Minnesota in the half.
The Vikings didn't waste any time starting the fireworks show.
Culpepper opened the game with a 46-yard pass to Moss, who slivered through the Saints' zone coverage and beat safety Tebucky Jones to the sideline for a tone-setting gain. On the next play, Moore burst for a 20-yard gain up the middle. The Saints, however, stiffened near the goal line -- and Ambrose made his third interception of the season in the end zone to kill the scoring threat.
"The old Daunte Culpepper would have thrown an interception and come back and thrown multiple picks," Vikings coach Mike Tice said. "This Daunte Culpepper shakes it off and moves forward."
That was precisely what Culpepper did.
On the next possession, the Vikings marched 67 yards on eight plays and took a 7-0 lead on his 1-yard touchdown pass to Wiggins.
On the next series, facing a third-and-15 at the Saints' 43, Culpepper fired a pass deep down the right sideline toward Moss, who appeared to be well-defended by McKenzie. Moss raced past McKenzie and hauled in the ball just inside the back right corner of the end zone while tight-roping the back line. Just like that, the score was 14-0 -- and the Saints' worst nightmares had been realized.
The Saints seized temporary life thanks to the Vikings' generosity.
With Minnesota leading 14-0 and threatening again at the Saints' 18, a low snap by center Matt Birk touched off a circus-like scramble for the loose ball. First, Jones knocked it loose from Culpepper, then Grant tipped the ball to Jay Bellamy, who recovered it and pitched it to Ambrose, who returned it 40 yards to the Vikings' 14. That play set up a 2-yard touchdown run by Deuce McAllister.
From there, though, it was all Vikings, even with Moss on the bench with a strained right hamstring
The Saints did their share of damage to the carpet but they simply could not keep up.
A dropped pass by DontÃƒÂƒÃ‚Â© Stallworth killed their first drive. Brooks threw an interception in the red zone to kill the second. Antoine Winfield returned the interception 56 yards to set up the Vikings' second score.
Brooks completed 22 of 38 passes for 249 yards. McAllister rushed 18 times for 78 yards and two touchdowns, but it was not nearly enough to keep pace with the Vikings.
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