NEW ORLEANS -- Daunte Culpepper was joyous: Even when he made a mistake he made good.
Culpepper fumbled the snap on a 2-point conversion with 5 seconds left, picked up the ball and still managed to lunge into the end zone, lifting the Minnesota Vikings to a 32-31 victory against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.
|Daunte Culpepper slides past Grady Jackson and into the end zone for the winning two points.(AP)|
The Saints (9-5) could have clinched a playoff spot with a victory but fell two games behind Tampa Bay in the NFC South.
"It's going to leave a bad taste in our mouths,' Saints quarterback Aaron Brooks said.
Minnesota, which had lost six of 10 when leading or tied in the fourth quarter, was trailing 31-24 with 5:21 left.
Culpepper drove the Vikings 73 yards before hitting a double-teamed Randy Moss for a 13-yard touchdown to pull the Vikings to 31-30. Minnesota eschewed an extra point kick to force overtime, and Culpepper's conversion gave Minnesota its first road victory since Thanksgiving Day 2000, when it beat Dallas.
"That wasn't a monkey on our backs," said Minnesota defensive end Lance Johnstone. "That was a gorilla. Every game has been close and to be able to finish the game on the road was big."
Vikings coach Mike Tice said in the middle of the winning drive, "I told the coaches to have your 2-point play ready. It was not a question we would go for it."
Culpepper completed 26 of 36 passes for 312 yards and two touchdowns. Culpepper was also the game's leading rusher with 73 yards and two touchdowns.
Moss caught 11 passes for 113 yards and two touchdowns.
"Moss is the money man," Culpepper said. "In the clutch you've got to go to him."
Deuce McAllister, playing with a sprained ankle, rushed for 69 yards on 18 carries for the Saints. He had a 78-yard touchdown run nullified by a holding call.
"We needed to put another touchdown on the board," McAllister said. "We should have in the first half."
The inability to stop Minnesota in the closing seconds was especially troubling, Saints coach Jim Haslett said.
"Those two plays were probably the most disappointing of the game," Haslett said. "We had Moss doubled, we had a guy inside-outside and still got beat."
New Orleans used some trickery on the opening kickoff, with Michael Lewis handing the ball to Fred McAfee, who took it to the Vikings 30. The drive stalled and John Carney kicked a 40-yard field goal.
The Vikings came back with a reverse of their own, with Michael Bennett handing the ball to Moss, who gained 25 yards. Five plays later, Culpepper ran the final 4 yards to make it 7-3.
The Vikings stretched the lead to 14-3 as Culpepper converted on three third downs, completing passes for 16, 17 and 32 yards before running in from the 6.
"I thought the play and determination of our quarterback kept us in the game,' said Tice.
Lewis got some of it back, returning his second kickoff of the season for a touchdown, a 97-yarder late in the first quarter.
A 41-yard field goal by Gary Anderson made it 17-10, but Carney's 34-yarder brought New Orleans within 17-13.
New Orleans took its first lead when Brooks hit Jake Reed for a 35-yard touchdown with 53 seconds left in the half. But Culpepper and Moss weren't through, and the Vikings took back the lead 24-20 after a one-handed grab by Moss of a 33-yard pass with 12 seconds remaining in the second period.
After scoring 44 points in the first 30 minutes, both offenses struggled in the second half.
The Saints staged an eight-minute drive in the third quarter that ended in Carney's 27-yard field goal. That was the only score until New Orleans went up 32-24 with 5:21 left. A scrambling Brooks found McAllister, who dived into the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown. Brooks hit Joe Horn in the end zone for the 2-point conversion.
Brooks completed 21 of 33 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns, but was sacked four times.
- The Vikings were minus-18 in turnovers going into the game, the Saints were plus-6. Neither team turned the ball over.
- Moss passed current Saints WR Jake Reed for third in career yards receiving in Vikings history with 6,524.
- The Saints wore new gold jerseys for the game.
- The game was the 20th regular-season sellout for the Saints.
The Associated Press News Service
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