Rotten in the Apple
Against Giants, blundering Vikings can do nothing right
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -- Just like that, the Minnesota Vikings became a poor-tackling, penalty prone, mistake-riddled shell of the team that was 11-2 going into December.
They couldn't catch up to the Giants' receivers. They couldn't even catch a kickoff.
And those were only their opening-minute blunders. They were down 14-0 before Culpepper touched the ball.
"You get to this point, you want to win so bad," Culpepper said. "If anything, this just brings tears to your eyes."
"I would love for Cris to come back, but I don't want him to come back and have his hopes set on the Super Bowl," Moss said. "It's going to be hard for us to win a Super Bowl in Minnesota.
"I don't know if he'd be coming back for Super Bowl reasons or for football reasons. I don't want to say Minnesota will never win a Super Bowl, but it's going to be hard."
The problems began when defensive back Kenny Wright joined Orlando Thomas on the injured list before game time, thinning an already porous secondary. They carried over to their four stars -- Culpepper, Moss, Carter and Robert Smith -- and never let up in the most lopsided NFC Championship Game in history.
"I probably won't forget about this the rest of my life," Smith said.
Minnesota was shut out for the first time in nine seasons under coach Dennis Green, who fell to 4-8 in the playoffs, and were denied their first Super Bowl appearance since 1977.
Culpepper completed only 13 of 28 passes for 78 yards. Carter was held to three receptions for 24 yards, Moss was limited to two catches for 18.
Moss said he sensed there were problems even before kickoff.
"I don't really know if all of our losses were because we were too cocky or there was too much hooping and hollering," he said. "We ate our words today."
Several factors worked against the Vikings. They were playing outdoors for the first time since Thanksgiving and fell to 3-3 on grass fields. The outcome also exposed many of the Vikings' problems over the latter part of the season. They won their first seven games but were a mediocre 5-6 the rest of the way.
The greatest factor, though, was the Giants.
The Vikings never climbed out of the hole.
When they attempted to convert on fourth-and-4, still trailing 14-0, a false start forced them to punt. They had the Giants pinned at their 2 after the kick, but immediately let them off the hook by giving up a 24-yard pass to Amani Toomer.
The Vikings were in the NFC championship game record book by halftime, trailing 34-0.
Things got worse right away in the second half. Culpepper lost a fumble on the Vikings' first play, and offensive tackle Todd Steussie lost his temper, throwing his helmet in disgust.
Even the mild-mannered Walters was ejected late in the game for throwing two punches at the Giants' Ramos McDonald.
"It was the spur of the moment," Walters said. "It's not who I am."