Well, they sure passed.
“We have to be better before we can beat some of these teams we’re playing in the coming weeks,” coach Mike Tice said. “But that feels pretty good.”
Minnesota’s first five opponents came against teams with a combined record of 8-20 entering Sunday.
The Broncos, whose only other defeat came by a point against unbeaten Kansas City, provided the Vikings’ toughest challenge to date.
Denver (5-2) nearly rallied behind third-string quarterback Danny Kanell, who went 12-for-18 for 104 yards and a touchdown in place of the injured Beuerlein.
“Danny did a good job. If he did a great job, we would’ve won,” wide receiver Rod Smith said.
Clinton Portis ran 25 times for 117 yards and a touchdown in addition to three catches for 43 yards for the Broncos, who trailed 28-7 midway through the third quarter.
Beuerlein, playing in place of injured starter Jake Plummer, completed nine of 19 passes for 119 yards and three interceptions before leaving in the third quarter with a dislocated finger on his throwing hand. He was sacked five times.
“It felt like they blitzed us about every other snap,” Smith said.
That’s what Vikings defensive coordinator George O’Leary wanted. His aggressive approach has helped a unit that ranked 26th in the league last season and 27th the year before.
“Anytime you win against a good team like Denver and you know what you have to work on leaving the building, you’re in good shape,” O’Leary said.
“They’re a team that’s been able to take the ball away all year,” said Denver coach Mike Shanahan.
Jason Elam’s second 46-yard field goal cut the lead to 28-13 early in the fourth quarter. Kanell threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Mike Anderson to make it 28-20 with 6:45 left after an interference call on Denard Walker in the end zone gave the Broncos first-and-goal.
Minnesota kicker Aaron Elling has been bothered by back spasms, and the Vikings went for it on fourth-and-3 at the Denver 32. Kelly Campbell was open down the sideline but dropped the would-be TD pass, and the Vikings turned the ball over with 3:24 remaining.
The Broncos had first-and-10 at the Vikings 30, but the drive stalled there. Johnstone, who also was credited with 1 1/2 sacks, broke up Kanell’s fourth-down pass at the line of scrimmage.
“Danny came out and brought us back,” said Shanahan, now down to one healthy quarterback. “He’s going to have to lead the team.”
Culpepper, who broke several bones in his back on a hit in the second quarter against Detroit on Sept. 21, looked as spry as usual—though he was off target on a handful of long throws.
He finished 19-for-26 with two touchdowns, one to Campbell in the first quarter.
“I feel great,” Culpepper said. “On a scale of one to 10, I feel like I’m a dime.”
Portis ran in from 4 yards out at the two-minute warning to tie the game at 7, but Moss’ amazing play swung the momentum back to Minnesota.
The Vikings drove to Denver’s 45, then were pushed back by two sacks. Culpepper rolled out as the clock expired and flung a pass in the air to Moss, who caught the ball near the 20 and was about to be tackled at the 15.
He tossed the ball blindly over his back, and Williams caught it and streaked in for the touchdown to make it 14-7. The play was reviewed and upheld as a backward lateral.
“It’s one of the crazy plays that happens once a year,” Broncos defensiveend Bertrand Berry said, “and it happened to us.”
Shanahan said the Broncos will have to sign a free-agent quarterback this week. … Culpepper has thrown seven touchdown passes without aninterception this season.