Game 8: Highlights, Lowlights and Notes

Daunte Culpepper

In a game that had all the makings of a shootout, Daunte Culpepper did his part, playing nearly perfect even without Randy Moss. There were a number of good performances, but also a number of negative factors that helped keep the Vikings from winning.

PLAYING TO THE COLTS' STRENGTH
The Vikings were obviously determined to run the ball. In one sense, the strategy made sense when trying to keep the ball away from Indianapolis' potent offense. In another sense, it was playing away from the Colts' strength … or at least away from their 32nd-ranked passing defense weakness.

In their first three drives, the Vikings attempted only two passes in 11 non-punting plays. By the end of the first half, the pass vs. run numbers started to even out — 13 rushes to nine pass attempts — but seven of those pass attempts came in their last drive of the half, when they were trying to beat the clock.

SECOND-HALF PASSING PERFECTION
While Daunte Culpepper was efficient in the first half, completing six of nine pass attempts, his accuracy was perfect in the second half. He completed all 10 of his second-half passes, but without Randy Moss active the longest pass play of the second half went for 18 yards to tight end Jermaine Wiggins.

BURLESON'S BIG NIGHT
Nate Burleson caught only pass, but he made his touches count. His one reception was good for an 8-yard touchdown to tie the score at 21-21 at the start of the fourth quarter.

In the first five minutes of the third quarter, he made his presence felt even more. He returned a Hunter Smith punt 91 yards for the second-longest punt return in team history. He had one other punt return for 5 yards, meaning two of the three times Burleson touched the ball he registered a touchdown.

NO MOSS ON SITE
The Vikings not only declared Randy Moss out for Monday's game, they left him behind in Minneapolis.

John Madden called Moss "the biggest spread in the NFL," meaning he can stretch the field. Ya think?

It was probably no coincidence that the first time in Moss' career that he missed a game was also the first time in 37 games that the Vikings didn't produce at least 300 yards of offense, ending their ongoing NFL record.

THE BOD IS BACK
Minnesota's former governor, Jesse "The Body" Ventura, gave the intro to the ABC's "Monday Night Football." Ventura, the former professional wrestler, hyped the matchup between Daunte Culpepper and Peyton Manning, setting the scene for the network to continually make the natural comparison between the two highest rated passers in the league.

Entering the game, Manning's 22 TD passes after seven games were the most in NFL history. He continued his NFL-record pace after throwing four TDs against the Vikings and finished with a passer rating of 144.8.

Culpepper entered the game with an NFL-best completion percentage of 70.7. He improved on that by going completing 16 of 19, a completion percentage of 84.2.

"Do you know what the cushiest job description is in this building tonight? Punter," Al Michaels said.

There were only six punts in the game — three by each team.

FUMBLE-ROOSKY
The Vikings wanted to keep their composure and talked about winning the turnover battle on the road in Indianapolis. As has been the case with this team for years, they looked too excitable to start a prime-time game on the road.

On the first snap, Matt Birk and Daunte Culpepper fumbled the exchange, resulting in a 28-yard loss. The good news was that Bryant McKinnie finally recovered the ball after numerous others kicked it and failed to recover.

After that poor start, the game ended with no turnovers for either team.

DOUBLE BACKFIELD
The Vikings started the game with Michael Bennett and Onterrio Smith in the same backfield. The used a two-running back approach on a few other plays as well.

Smith led the charge with 80 yards on 13 carries in his return from a four-game suspension. Michael Bennett, available for the third straight game, rushed for 18 yards on five carries.

NO CHALLENGES, MANY TIMEOUTS
After last Sunday's game against the New York Giants, when Mike Tice used both of his challenges earlier in the first half and lost them both, he admitted they were poor decisions on his part.

This week, the Vikings limited their challenges early — because they were too busy taking timeouts. After a fumble on the opening snap left the Vikings with third-and-33, Minnesota took its first timeout. They must not have found the third-and-33 play they were seeking because they ended up with a draw play to Bennett.

On the Colts' ensuing possession, the Vikings used their second timeout just before a snap … on a play that looked like they'd have Edgerrin James stuffed for a good loss.

That left the team with only one timeout, and they could have used at least one more at the end of the first half, when they settled for a 23-yard field goal on first down from the 5-yard line because time was running out.

They were also left with only timeout on the Colts' final drive because they used each of their first two timeouts earlier in the half, one because they didn't have the right personnel on the field on defense and another because they wanted to think about a fourth-and-1 play on offense.

FLOODING THE ZONES
The Colts knew the Vikings would be light on linebackers and certainly looked to expose that. Without Chris Claiborne and Raonall Smith sidelined with injuries, the Colts came out and ran the ball the first five times before three red zone passes.

Then they went to work on Brian Williams. Williams was beaten on Wayne's opening touchdown, but it was a tough pattern to defend with an in-and-out route that shielded Williams from the ball.

On their second touchdown, the Colts sent two receivers into Williams' zone. When he went inside, Manning threw it to tight end Marcus Pollard in the flat. Williams missed the tackle and Pollard scored.

SACKMASTER
Kevin Williams came into the game with five sacks, tied for the team lead with Lance Johnstone. Peyton Manning entered the game having only been sacked four times. Williams took the Colts out of field goal range in the second quarter when he got to Manning for only the fifth time this season. Manning entered the game as quarterback hardest to sack this year. Williams left the game in sole possession of the sack lead for the Vikings.

FRIGHTFUL FREENEY
Dwight Freeney is no stranger to multiple-sack games. After registering the only two sacks on Culpepper Monday night, the Colts' lightning-fast defensive end has seven games with at least two sacks in his third season in the league. Only Reggie White, Derrick Thomas and Jevon Kearse had more sacks after two seasons in the league than Freeney, who had 24 sacks after last season. He has six this year.

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