Sunday's 24-17 loss could be the time-capsule game to explain the 2002 season years from now. The things that were good coming into the game went away, while things that were bad and even ugly remained as painful reminders.
The good things coming in centered on the running game. Michael Bennett was one game away from a franchise-record fifth straight 100-yard game and had a chance to expand on his own NFL record with a fourth straight game with a run of 60 yards or more. Both records died, as Bennett didn't finish the game with 60 yards rushing total -- much less on one run -- and, when he finally broke a run for 21 yards in the third quarter, he hurt his ankle and didn't return.
The other record that went by the boards was Moe Williams and his quest for an eighth straight game with a TD. He never got into a situation to run in a TD.
As for the bad, the Vikings' league-worst turnover ratio didn't get any better. Three first-half fumbles killed the Vikings. A fumble by Culpepper on his own 29-yard line led to a Patriots TD that made the score 21-0. A fumble by Bennett came on the Patriots 10-yard line and denied the Vikes a TD. A fumble by Moss on the New England 31 should have led to points, but, because of weather conditions, the Pats didn't even try a field goal.
The ugly is the losing streak that continues as two years, two days and counting -- a span of 16 games. With road games coming up vs. playoff-bound Green Bay and New Orleans, that ugly monkey may take awhile to get off their backs.
Ironically, a 112-year old columnist for a Twin Cities paper immediately referred to the game as a moral victory. Granted, the first contest this genius covered between the cities was a painful defeat by the Minneapolis Red Jackets to the Boston Bulldogs in 1929. There was no moral victory Sunday. Unfortunately, it was history repeating itself as it has for much of the last two years for the Vikings. Sometimes, years like this come along, and Sunday was another painful chapter in the saga.
* Bennett and guard David Dixon topped the postgame injury list. Bennett left with an ankle injury, while Dixon suffered a hip flexor injury and tried to play through it -- finally being replaced late in the game. Early indications were that both would be available for Sunday's game with Atlanta, but both will be evaluated when the team meets today.
* Critics of Randy Moss got fuel for their fires Sunday. In perhaps the two most critical plays of the game -- a fourth-and-14 play with three minutes to go trailing by seven points in the fourth quarter and on the Vikings final play, Moss did what he is hated for -- taking plays off. After running a deep pattern on the third-down play at the Patriots 49, Moss took himself out of the game for the fourth-down play. Asked why in the locker room afterward, in between curses Moss said he was helping the team, since he was tired. No, Randy. Helping the team would have been to run 10-15 yards hard on fourth down and take two defenders or more with you to free up someone else. On the final play, he barely moved from the line of scrimmage and his man dropped into coverage in the vicinity of Jim Kleinsasser -- the target of the pass. Somehow, Marvin Harrison and Terrell Owens don't "get tired" as easily as Moss.
* The Vikings are the most penalized team in the NFL and added eight more accepted penalties Sunday. Two others were declined.
* In the last four road games, the Vikings have started the game with deficits of 14-0, 20-0, 21-0 and 21-0.
* One bright spot was when the team went to the no-huddle in the second half. At one point, Culpepper completed 11 straight passes in the no-huddle formations.
* Culpepper's lack of clock management skills showed. He burned all of his time outs on offense, leaving nothing for the defense to use in the final three minutes of the game. The first time out of the second half came with the Vikings driving into Patriots territory. Following a Culpepper scramble to the Patriots 24, he called time out to apparently give the team a chance to keep the wind at its back -- presumeably to kick a field goal if the drive stalled. As it turned out, Anderson did kick a field -- but into the wind to start the fourth quarter.
The second time out again came following a first down. Culpepper appeared to complain that the play clock shouldn't have been running, but after a 19-yard pass to Moss, when he was tackled the 40-second clock began. It simply ran down and a second time out was wasted. The third time out came after a sack. This was perhaps the worst of the three because, with 3:40 to play, the clock stops after a sack and is only started after the ball is place down. Again, lousy clock management killed a chance for a last-minute drive because, not only could the team not stop the clock when it got on offense, sideline routes were all but taken away. With action forced in the middle, the Vikings were victim to the defensive intent.