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Minnesota 32, New Orleans 31

  |   Dec. 15, 2002 at 8:26 PM
NEW ORLEANS, Dec. 15 (UPI) -- Daunte Culpepper threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Randy Moss with five seconds remaining Sunday, then shocked New Orleans by running for the two-point conversion as the Minnesota Vikings snapped a 17-game road losing streak with a thrilling 32-31 victory over the Saints.

Trying to win on the road for the first time since a victory at Dallas on Thanksgiving Day 2000, the Vikings resorted to an unusual gamble to get the job done.

After Culpepper found Moss across the middle to cap a 13-play, 73-yard drive to pull the Vikings within 31-30, coach Mike Tice did not want to see overtime. He immediately signaled for his team to go try for the win with a two-point attempt.

"I didn't think overtime with the crowd would be a good thing for us," Tice said. "Honestly, a 3-10 team, so what the hell did we have to lose? Let's just go for the win, so why not?"

In the shotgun formation, Culpepper dropped the snap. But he picked up the loose ball and somehow still had enough time to run up the middle before diving into the end zone to complete the comeback.

"We needed a touchdown to win, and then we were going to go for two," Culpepper said. "I knew we were going to go for two to win the game.

"We had been practicing that (two-point) play for six weeks, for the same

situation. A two-point play we needed to win the game. I knew the offensive linemen were going to execute. I knew the hole was going to be big.

"I was rushing myself because I saw the hole open so fast and I didn't keep my eye on the ball and snap. It was a little to my left and I missed it. So I immediately went down on my knee grabbed it and then went up the middle. It was a good enough snap. I should've had it."

The dramatic ending capped a huge day for Culpepper. He passed for 312 yards and two touchdowns and also rushed for 73 yards and a pair of scores.

It was a disappointing loss for the Saints (9-5), who squandered a chance to wrap up a playoff berth while falling two games behind first-place Tampa Bay in the NFC West.

"You are going to get these types of games in the NFL," Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks said. "It just so happended we had one. It was very disappointing in terms of overall play."

After a first half that featured 44 points, the Saints managed John Carney's 27-yard field goal with 55 seconds left in the third, pulling them within 24-23.

On their initial possession of the fourth quarter, the Saints scored again, going 74 yards in nine plays against the NFL's 30th-ranked defense to take the lead.

Brooks kept the drive alive with a 20-yard completion to Jerome Pathon on third and seven to the New Orleans 49. Deuce McAllister ran 16 yards on third and two to the 27 and a personal foul on defensive end Lance Johnstone moved the ball to the 13.

Brooks gave the Saints the lead by finding McAllister on the right side for a 17-yard touchdown pass. McAllister caught the ball at the two and dove into the end zone. Brooks hit Joe Horn for the two-point conversion, giving the Saints a 31-24 lead with 5:21 remaining.

Brooks completed 21 of 33 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns. McAllister rushed for 69 yards on 18 attempts.

But Culpepper was able to engineer the game-winning drive, moving his team 73 yards in 13 plays, a march that lasted nearly six minutes. Culpepper converted on third down four times on the drive.

With 26 seconds remaining, Culpepper found Moss with a three-yard touchdown pass. But the play was nullified when Moss was called for offensive interference for pushing off former Viking Dale Carter.

On third and goal from the 13, Culpepper found Moss over the middle in the end zone for a touchdown. Moss, who had 11 receptions for 113 yards, made his final catch of the day between Carter and safety Sammy Knight.

"They were throwing to him every play," Knight said. "He is the top receiver in the game. They are not the top offense in the NFC for nothing. You just have to take your hat off to them. What else can you say?"

"Those two plays were probably the most disappointing of the game," Saints coach Jim Haslett said. "We had Moss doubled, we had a guy inside and outside and still got beat."

Culpepper started his big day with his legs, running for touchdowns of four and six yards in the first quarter as the Vikings built a 14-3 lead.

After Culpepper's second touchdown run, the Saints immediately got the points back when Michael Lewis scored on 97-yard kickoff return. It was his second kickoff return for a score this season.

On their ensuing drive in the second quarter, Culpepper directed a nine-play, 57-yard march. Michael Bennett had a 19-yard run and a 35-yard reception to the New Orleans four.

The Vikings were unable to get into the end zone and Gary Anderson kicked a 41-yard field goal for a 17-10 lead.

New Orleans kept the offensive barrage going, getting a 34-yard field goal from Carney with 5:25 left before intermission.

Brooks gave the Saints the lead with 53 seconds left in the half, finding former Viking Jake Reed over the middle for a 35-yard touchdown. Reed spun into the end zone after getting hit at the two by rookie safety Jack Brewer.

But the Vikings needed just 41 seconds to take back the lead as they went 80 yards in five plays.

Culpepper had a 21-yard pass to Bennett and a 19-yard run to the New Orleans 40.

After finding Moss for 10 yards, he hooked up with his star receiver for a 33-yard touchdown pass with 12 seconds left in the half, giving the Vikings a 24-20 lead.

Minnesota scored on four of its five first-half possessions, rolling up 16 first downs and 291 total yards. The Saints had seven first downs and 121 total yards.

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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