Defensive plan foiled by Moss
The Minnesota receiver's athleticism in double coverage leads to the winning touchdown.
The Bucs defense had made a conscious decision to accept small doses of the Vikings offense's poison instead of the lethal big-play injections Minnesota is accustomed to using on opponents.
It was a strategy that appeared to be the right one in the Monday night battle. But the Vikings hit them with a super shot late that left the defense reeling.
Minnesota quarterback Daunte Culpepper was beginning to look rattled, but he came up with a 42-yard bomb to Randy Moss after the Bucs had basically stopped the Vikings from coming up with big plays for most of the game.
The play came after Bucs cornerback Donnie Abraham had returned a blocked field goal for a touchdown to give Tampa Bay a 23-20 lead.
"When they blocked that first field goal, I wasn't really down but I was cautious about what was going to happen," Moss said. "We had a great crowd, great fan support and we have to make a lot of things happen. We had to fight through adversity the entire second half. We just had to make plays.
Entering the game, the plan was simple. Do whatever it takes to stop Moss from hitting them with big plays. Achieving that goal required Tampa Bay to keep both safeties, John Lynch and Damien Robinson, back in coverage. It was a calculated risk because taking Lynch out of the box meant Vikings running back Robert Smith would have a better chance to grind out yards.
In the first half, the Vikings got ahead early with the aid of two touchdowns off of turnovers. But in the second half, the Vikings began to settle into a pattern (the Bucs defense found advantageous. A mix of coverages and a strong rush by the Tampa Bay front four was leading to havoc.
Culpepper was beginning to look tentative and the sacks were piling up. But just when it appeared the Bucs might have been ready to seal a victory with a 23-20 lead, Culpepper uncorked two completions: one each to Moss and Matthew Hatchette. Two plays later came the big blow: the 42-yarder to Moss that blew away the Bucs' game effort. Abraham and Lynch were in position to break up the pass, but as Moss has done so many times, he came down with the catch despite the double coverage.
Replays seem to indicate Abraham simply jumped too soon. It's not uncommon for cornerbacks to do just that, primarily because if they don't jump, Moss is capable of going over the top of defenders.
"It was just him making a play and us not making a play," Abraham said. "I was in position and I actually stripped his arm and and the ball was bobbling around. Somehow it stuck in there."
Still, the play is as much a tribute to the moxie of coach Dennis Green as it is to the athletic ability of Moss and Culpepper. Green allows Culpepper to throw into double coverage when a lot of other teams avoid taking such risks.
With risk came reward. Now the Vikings have a 5-0 record and in essence a three-game lead over the Bucs.
"They were very tough," Moss said. "I have to give them credit. They had a good game plan. I think we prepared very well for them. We had to prepare for this Monday night game and now we're happy with where we're at."
Ernest Hooper, The St.Petersburg Times 2000