Vikings shake road woes by sticking to coach's plan
By Sean Jensen
Knight Ridder Newspapers
HOUSTON -- Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Tice proved prophetic with a few extra days of preparation for Sunday's game against the Houston Texans.
Coming out of last weekend's bye, Tice emphasized three key points to his players: The Vikings could cure their road woes by reducing offensive turnovers; their defensive line needed to be more disciplined; and they would have to be wary of a Texans comeback.
The Amazing Kreskin he is not.
But Tice's predictions played out Sunday as Daunte Culpepper threw five touchdown passes in a 34-28 overtime victory over the Texans in front of 70,718 fans at Reliant Stadium, where the retractable roof was left open. Ostensibly, this was to give the Texans an extra home-field advantage since the Vikings were 1-17 in their last 18 games outdoors.
But the Vikings' offense played its first game without a turnover since a 35-7 victory over the San Francisco 49ers last September at the Metrodome, and it recovered from a fourth-quarter funk to score the winning touchdown -- a 50-yard reception by receiver Marcus Robinson --on its second overtime possession. And despite letting a 21-0 lead slip away, the Vikings' defense came up with key plays, most notably a third-down sack by Chris Hovan and Steve Martin on the Texans' first overtime series.
"(Tice) told us all week that they were going to make a late push, and they did," guard Chris Liwienski said. "It was just a matter of us staying the course and grinding away and finally finding our opportunity.
"This is something we needed to do," Liwienski added of winning on the road, which they did for the first time since Oct. 5, 2003. "We talk about being a playoff team, and being in contention and dictating our own destiny? Well, you have to win on the road, so this is a big step for us."
The Vikings (3-1), who remained tied atop the NFC North with the Detroit Lions, did so without five starters, not including tight end Jim Kleinsasser and right tackle Mike Rosenthal, both of whom were placed on injured reserve on Sept. 22.
Center Matt Birk played only the final three snaps after backup Cory Withrow sprained his knee, and running back Moe Williams didn't play at all. Injured starters Jermaine Wiggins, E.J. Henderson and Chris Claiborne didn't suit up.
But their replacements played admirably, led by rookie running back Mewelde Moore, who gained a surprising 182 total yards on a combined 32 touches (20 rushes, 12 receptions).
In overtime, the Vikings won the toss but went three and out. "Once we got into overtime, we thought we had a chance," David Carr said.
From his box high above the field, Vikings offensive coordinator Scott Linehan yearned for one more chance. On third and two from the Texans' 41, Carr sidestepped a hard-charging Lance Johnstone and was sacked by Chris Hovan.
"(That) was to me the play of the game, because nothing was really going our way," Linehan said. "We had a couple of three and outs, and they were getting pressure on the quarterback. We needed some kind of a momentum-building play."
Six plays later, Culpepper zipped a pass to Robinson for a 50-yard touchdown.
"I never feel comfortable with a lead, especially on the road," Culpepper said. "We knew they would come back with a flourish before the game is over, like coach Tice said. "But one thing we were able to do is sustain, and the team that sustains the best wins."