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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

  Josh McCown
Josh McCown hurls a last-second prayer toward the end zone, which was answered by Nathan Poole as time ran out.
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) -- Arizona's Nathan Poole was Randy Moss' college teammate and spent all week pretending to be him on the scout team.

The impersonation reached perfection Sunday with Poole's 28-yard touchdown pass from Josh McCown as time expired that knocked the stunned Minnesota Vikings out of the playoffs.

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."

Poole caught the ball near the sideline in the end zone and was ruled forced out by Denard Walker and Brian Russell. The touchdown gave the Green Bay Packers the division title.

"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."

Banks: Favre becomes a believer

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- By the time kickoff rolled around Sunday afternoon at Lambeau Field, most everyone on hand knew the Green Bay Packers were desperate for help. Their playoff dreams dying one scenario at a time, the Packers suddenly found themselves dealing with agonizing circumstances beyond their control as outcomes around the NFL conspired against them.

All of which produced the weirdest sort of game against the Denver Broncos, as the Packers played out a contest that went from meaning everything to meaning nothing and back again.

You saw it, right? It was over. I mean over. And then, suddenly, almost inexplicably, it wasn't, and the Packers were NFC North champions.


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.

McCown threw 13 yards to Poole to the 13, but sacks by Kevin Williams and Chris Hovan seemed to save the victory for Minnesota.

Not quite.

"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.

Minnesota had an interception by Brian Williams nullified by a hands-to-the-face penalty against Ken Irvin, and Elling missed a 44-yard field goal.

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.

Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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