Out with a bang
Vikings stunned on final play, eliminated from playoffs
Posted: Sunday December 28, 2003 9:19PM; Updated: Monday December 29, 2003 12:05AM
The play on fourth-and-25 rallied the Cardinals to an 18-17 victory and robbed the Vikings of the NFC North title.
"You don't have any clue how much it hurts," Minnesota's Corey Chavous said.
The Vikings joined the 1978 Washington Redskins as the only teams to start a season 6-0 and not make the playoffs.
"I really can't put into words how I feel right now," Daunte Culpepper said. "It's just terrible that you fight that hard all year just trying to stay alive, and lose it like that."
"We said `Let's be the best receiver corps on the field," Poole said. "I don't know about statswise, but we came out with the victory, so we was the best receiving corps out there."
Referees reviewed the play to see if Poole had control when he went out of bounds.
McCown had been sacked on second and third downs, and Arizona barely got the final play off with 4 seconds to go.
"A lot of things go through your head when you get outside the pocket in that situation, a do-or-die situation," said McCown, a second-year pro who started the last three games. "The ball has to go up, but you want to put it in a safe spot and give a guy a chance to make a play."
Arizona cut the lead to 17-12 on McCown's desperation, fourth-and-goal 2-yard touchdown pass to Steve Bush with 1:54 to play. A short pass to Emmitt Smith fell a yard shy of the goal line for the 2-point conversion.
But Damien Anderson recovered the onside kick for Arizona, and a 30-yard pass-interference call against Walker put the Cardinals at the Minnesota 31.
"If you're going to be a champion, you've got to close it out," Minnesota coach Mike Tice said, "and we didn't close it out."
The Cardinals (4-12) snapped a seven-game losing streak in what might have been Dave McGinnis' final game as coach. They were 4-4 at home, including a victory over Green Bay. Poole gave the ball he caught to McGinnis afterward.
"This is why I'm in this profession," McGinnis said, "to get a group of men to believe and pull together for something like this. To feel what we felt today when Nate Poole caught that ball in the end zone -- that's what it's about."
A majority of the fans in Sun Devil Stadium were purple-clad Vikings boosters, and they were stunned by the last play. Minnesota players collapsed on their backs in disbelief.
Meanwhile, Brett Favre and the Packers celebrated with their fans at Lambeau Field when they learned of Arizona's improbable victory during the 2-minute warning of Green Bay's 31-3 win over Denver.
It was a tough game throughout for the Vikings. Trailing 6-0 at halftime, Minnesota brought the NFL's top-rated offense to life with a pair of touchdowns for a 17-6 lead.
Culpepper was 4-for-4 for 45 yards on the go-ahead touchdown drive in the third quarter, then threw 7 yards to Moss for the second score to make it 14-6 with 8:54 to play.
Williams deflected McCown's pass, then intercepted it to set up Aaron Elling's 46-yard field goal that bounced off the left upright to put Minnesota up 17-6 with 6:48 remaining.
The Vikings (9-7) needed a win or a Green Bay loss to win the division title and earn their first playoff berth since 2000.
Minnesota took the lead 7-6 by going 67 yards in 11 plays. Moe Williams scored untouched from 1 yard.
Arizona had a goal-line stand, followed by a 94-yard drive in the first half. The Cardinals had two potentially disastrous fumbles, but recovered both.
Notes: The victory cost Arizona the No. 1 pick in next season's draft. The Cardinals will pick third. ... Arizona rookie Anquan Boldin caught five passes to tie the franchise single season receiving record of 101 set by Larry Centers in 1995. ... The crowd of 52,734 was the Cardinals' second largest at home this season. ... Moss had three catches in Minnesota's opening drive, then two the rest of the game. ... The Vikings held Arizona to minus-17 yards in the third quarter.