With Daunte Culpepper enjoying his best season and the Vikings defense playing better, however, the Giants may find it considerably tougher to knock Minnesota off for the fourth time in five meetings.
The Vikings look to avoid a third straight loss to the Giants at the Metrodome when the teams meet for the fourth consecutive time in Minnesota.
The Vikings are off to another quick start, but last year’s similar beginning is nothing but a bad memory now for them. Minnesota was 6-0 going into its matchup with New York last Oct. 26, but lost 29-17.
The mood surrounding the Vikings seemed to change almost immediately following the defeat. Team owner Red McCombs went to the locker room and told the players they “humiliated” themselves and their franchise with the loss. Minnesota went on to drop their next three and seven of their last 10 to finish 9-7 and miss the playoffs.
“This is the time last year where I thought we drifted a little bit, and that ultimately has to come down to me for letting that happen,” Vikings coach Mike Tice said.
Minnesota’s defense failed the team in the loss to New York and throughout last season, when the Vikings allowed at least 20 points nine times. The unit hasn’t been markedly better this season, but put together an encouraging effort last week in a 20-3 victory over Tennessee.
The Vikings broke up nine passes, forced two fumbles and recorded two sacks in addition to picking off three passes. It was almost a complete turnaround from the previous two games, when Minnesota gave up 59 points and 795 yards.
“We have a very explosive offense,” cornerback Antoine Winfield said. “The last couple of weeks they’ve given us the lead, and we kind of weren’t doing our part. We’d have a good first half, then we would kind of fall apart in the second half. We just have to put a full game together.”
If the defense can do that, Culpepper, Randy Moss and the high-powered Vikings offense won’t have to carry as much of the load. Culpepper, however, has been so good that he’s been able to manage that so far this season, leading the league in completion percentage (73.3), touchdown passes (19) and passer rating (124.0). He directs an offense that has rolled up more than 300 yards in an NFL-record 35 straight games.
That could be a problem for a Giants team looking to get back on track after a sloppy home loss to Detroit last week. Kurt Warner threw a momentum-changing interception from the Lions’ 6-yard line at the end of the first half, and Joey Harrington threw two touchdown passes to lead Detroit to a 28-13 victory.
The Giants are off to a surprising 4-2 start under coach Tom Coughlin, but appeared to have lost momentum after their bye week and continued to have major problems in the red zone.
New York scored just six points in three trips to the red zone Sunday as its four-game winning streak was snapped. The Giants have been inside their opponent’s 20-yard line 21 times this season and scored just seven touchdowns and 67 points. The 33.3 TD percentage is the worst in the NFC and tied for the second-worst in the league with Oakland and Miami.
“It’s killing us right now,” Warner said. “We would be in so much better shape had we capitalized on the opportunities we had this year. We just have to find a way to do it because we have a lot of good football teams we’re playing in the stretch run.”
While the Vikings’ defense could be the cure for those woes, it won’t matter much if New York can’t get its defense back on track—and get Minnesota’s offensive stars contained. The Giants allowed only 41 points during the four straight wins.
Moss may be the Giants’ biggest concern. Moss, who has a strained right hamstring but was upgraded from questionable to probable Friday, has caught 20 passes for 381 yards (19.0 yards per catch) and five TDs in the last three games against the Giants. He had a seven-catch, 125-yard, two-TD performance in last season’s meeting.
The Giants are likely to send plenty of double- and triple-coverages at Moss, whom New York held to two catches and 18 yards in its 41-0 rout of Minnesota in the 2000 NFC championship game.