Erring it out
In the end, the Bucs game against the Vikings was much like the play that officially spelled their doom.
So wide open to possibilities, followed by a terrible stumble and a face first-landing.
On fourth-and-1 from midfield, rookie Todd Yoder was running free for a go-ahead touchdown without a defender within sight before tripping over the 30-yard line trying to catch a perfectly disguised halfback pass from Mike Alstott.
That pass - like the Bucs hopes of defending their NFC Central title - floated hopelessly out of reach.
Minnesota quarterback Daunte Culpepper passed for two touchdowns and ran for another score to lead the Vikings to a 30-23 win over the Bucs on Monday night at the Metrodome.
The victory kept the Vikings and Culpepper, making his fifth NFL start unbeaten at 5-0.
It was the Bucs' third straight loss.
Shaun King rebounded from two dismal performances to pass for 295 yards and run for a touchdown. But he couldn't overcome the Bucs' three lost fumbles and lost his first head-to- head meeting with Culpepper. "We got turnovers from them and it made a big difference," Vikings coach Dennis Green said. "They've got a tremendous football team. Some people may be surprised how Shaun King played, but I'm not. He's cut out of the same cloth as Daunte Culpepper. They're both underdog fighters."
Culpepper ran 27 yards for a score and fired a 26-yard touchdown pass to tight end John Davis, an ex-Buc. But it was his 42-yard bomb to receiver Randy Moss with 3:31 left that provided the winning points.
The loss spoiled a great performance by Bucs receiver Jacquez Green, who had a career-high 11 catches for 131 yards. In fact, Green nearly caught a Hail Mary pass from quarterback Shaun King as time expired, but officials ruled it hit the ground. "I was waiting for (Vikings safety Orlando) Thomas to tip it and he missed the ball," Jacquez Green said. "I went to my knees and I thought I caught it, but it was bang-bang."
Tony Dungy did not concede the NFC Central but said his team will need some help to catch the Vikings.
"You don't refocus your goals," Dungy said. "You just know it's going to be tough to win the division. We're going to have to play perfectly and hope they get some bumpy roads."
The Bucs did almost everything wrong Monday night - giving the Vikings 14 points off a fumbled reception by Keyshawn Johnson and a fumbled kickoff by Aaron Stecker.
Still, Tampa Bay led 23-20 with 12:13 remaining. Warren Sapp blocked a 51-yard field goal attempt by Gary Anderson and cornerback Donnie Abraham returned it 66 yards for a stunning touchdown that gave the Bucs their first lead. It was the second blocked field goal in as many games for Sapp, who swatted away a try by Washington's Michael Husted to send that game into overtime.
Of course, the celebration was short-lived.
Culpepper, who finished 15-of-19 passing for 231 yards, fired strikes to Moss and Carter for first downs before hitting the home run ball. Moss, who has killed the Bucs in the Metrodome, beat Abraham and safety John Lynch for a 42-yard TD bomb.
Culpepper fired strikes to Moss and Carter for first downs before hitting the home run ball. Moss, who has killed the Bucs in the Metrodome, beat Abraham and safety John Lynch for the score.
Facing fourth-and-1 from midfield, Yoder, a rookie from Vanderbilt, was all alone at the 30 when Alstott spotted him and threw a long but apparently catchable ball. But Yoder turned all the way around and lost his feet, falling down. "The turf monster got the rookie," Jacquez Green said.
Yoder was sullen in the locker room after the game while discussing the play.
"I just wasn't able to come up with the play," Yoder said. "As I look back on it, I've just got to make an athletic play on the ball, dive and make a catch."
Vikings cornerback Chris Dishman had another theory why Yoder and Alstott couldn't connect.
"He was too open," Dishman said. "I think the old Vikings ghost caused him to trip over his own feet."
The Bucs had a chance to tie the score late in the third quarter and had a first-and-goal at the Vikings' 2-yard line, trailing 20- 13.
But a combination of penalties and King losing his cool turned it into third-and-goal at the 17.
After running plays by Alstott and Warrick Dunn netted zero yards, tight end Patrick Hape was called for illegal procedure and King was knocked to the ground after the whistle. In frustration, he bounced the ball off the facemask of prone defensive tackle John Randle and was hit with a 15-yard penalty for taunting.
The Bucs continued their agonizingly slow starts at the Metrodome, where they had been outscored 42-0 in the first half of their past two games here.
On the first offensive snap, receiver Keyshawn Johnson caught a pass from King for a first down but was stripped by cornerback Robert Tate. Orlando Thomas recovered at the Tampa Bay 27.
It was the second fumble in as many games for Johnson, who saidhe never lost one in his career prior to coming to Tampa Bay.
Culpepper, the Vikings second-leading rusher with a 5-yard per carry average, scored on the next play when he scrambled up the middle and went untouched for a 27-yard run, his fourth of the season.
Just 24 seconds into the game, the Bucs trailed 7-0.
But Culpepper proved he was prone to mistakes. And he fumbled a shotgun snap from center Matt Birk that safety John Lynch recovered at Tampa Bay's 26-yard line to stop the next drive.
Johnson, who had wondered aloud this week why the Bucs hadn't thrown to him more, atoned for his earlier mistake to set up the tying touchdown. On third-and-19 from the Vikings 48, Johnson stuck his right hand out to stop a pass from King that was high and behind him, then caught it while on the ground for a first down.
After hitting Jacquez Green for another first down, King matched Culpepper with an 11-yard touchdown run on a quarterback draw.
But the Bucs weren't done self-destructing. After Gary Anderson's 38-yard field goal made it 10-7 Vikings, rookie Aaron Stecker fumbled the ensuing kickoff.
It took 11 seconds for the Vikings to make the Bucs pay. Culpepper threw a 26-yard touchdown to Davis to extend the lead to 17-7.
King and the Bucs then put together their best drive of the first half, an 19-play march that ended on third-and-goal from the 3-yard line when Alstott was dropped for a 1-yard loss. A 22-yard field goal by Martin Gramatica cut the lead to 17-10.
Tampa Bay blew a nice chance for more points before the half after Culpepper, not content to sit on the lead, was intercepted by safety Damien Robinson while trying to hit Randy Moss along the sideline.
King completed passes to Johnson and Reidel Anthony to move the Bucs to the Minnesota 34. But after two incompletions, Gramatica missed a 53-yard field goal attempt wide right.
The miss continued a disappointing season for Gramatica, who is 4- of-8 in field goal tries beyond 30 yards.
So effective was the Vikings offense that it did not punt until 6:23 remaining in the third quarter.
The first three-and-out stop by the Bucs came courtesy of defensive end Marcus Jones, who sacked Culpepper on consecutive plays.
Rick Stroud , The St.Petersburg Times 2000