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Defensive stand

Vikings' defense comes through in Divisional win

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Posted: Saturday January 06, 2001 6:30 PM
Updated: Saturday January 06, 2001 6:55 PM

  Wasswa Serwanga The Saints' Chad Morton is pulled down by Wasswa Serwanga of the Vikings. AP

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Members of the maligned Minnesota defense thought they had heard it all. And almost all of it was negative.

Then they played a major role in the Vikings' 34-16 victory Saturday against the New Orleans Saints in the second round of the NFC playoffs and heard something new: compliments -- from all directions.

"They've been saying all kinds of bad things about us -- and there's nothing new," Vikings free safety Orlando Thomas said. "They've been saying that for years. But we won 11 games with this defense."

New Orleans came into the game with a league-best 66 sacks, more than twice the Vikings' season total. Yet the Vikings managed to sack Aaron Brooks twice, and the Saints never got to Daunte Culpepper.

Minnesota's defensive front also limited the Saints to 69 yards rushing.

The Vikings' secondary was particularly effective, even as injuries whittled it down to the last available man. Brooks completed 30 of 48 passes, but they were good for only 295 yards. Running back Chad Morton caught 13 of the dumpoff passes, for an NFL playoff record. Yet his contribution was minimal.

Thomas left the game after the second quarter because of a hamstring injury. Cornerback Kenny Wright returned after spraining a knee.

"We had safeties playing corner," said Vikings free safety Tyrone Carter, a rookie who replaced Thomas. "Corners playing safety, safeties playing linebacker.

"You do whatever you can do to help. We're all athletes. We've all played those positions in Pop Warner or whatever."

Robert Griffith, a Pro Bowl strong safety, played cornerback in nickel situations for what he guessed was the first time in four or five seasons.

Wasswa Serwanga, a natural safety, broke up three passes in his second start at cornerback. Robert Tate, a former wide receiver, stepped in front of Willie Jackson to intercept a pass in the second half.

They wore their soreness like a badge of honor.

"When people started cramping up," Serwanga said, "that just showed everyone was giving it their all."

Carter agreed.

"Every guy out there gave it their all," he said. "Any time like that you're going to get your bumps and bruises."

Fernando Smith, signed by the Vikings late in the season, had not played in more than a month. But he had one more sack than the Saints' La'Roi Glover, who led the NFL with 17 sacks.

"They were bragging about their defensive line," Smith said, "but we had Johnny Burrough and Talance (Sawyer) and everybody going hard today."

The Vikings geared much of their defensive game plan around stopping Brooks, whose ability to improvise helped lead the Saints to the playoffs.

"But he's young and hasn't seen everything," middle linebacker Kailee Wong said, "so we tried to throw a lot at him."

It was more than the Saints could handle.


 
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