Moss shows who's boss

Vikings receivers torment Saints with three TD catches

Posted: Sunday, January 07, 2001

MINNEAPOLIS -- Daunte Culpepper has a simple job -- thanks to the weapons that surround him.

And who can argue with Culpepper when Randy Moss and Cris Carter are making huge plays, the offensive line is impenetrable and the defense isn't budging?

''Being a quarterback on this offense, all I have to do is be calm and know what we're trying to do, and get the ball in the right guys' hands,'' Culpepper said after throwing for three touchdowns in leading the Minnesota Vikings past the New Orleans Saints 34-16 Saturday.

Displaying the firepower that made them the second-highest scoring team in the NFC, Minnesota advanced to the conference championship game. Moss caught touchdown passes of 53 and 68 yards, Carter added a 17-yard TD reception and Culpepper showed no signs of a sprained ankle that limited him in the Vikings' three-game slide to end the regular season.

''It was unbelievable for him to do what he was able to do on a sprained ankle,'' said Carter, who had eight receptions for 120 yards.

Culpepper threw for 302 yards in his first playoff appearance, showing no sign of nerves, either.

''No, I was fired up,'' he said. ''I want to make plays, too.''

The best plays were the two passes to Moss. On the Vikings' third offensive play of the game, Moss found a seam between double coverage. He split Fred Thomas and Darren Perry, who took a bad angle on the short reception, and sped 53 yards to the end zone just 3:03 in.

''I think inside their heads it was, 'Uh-oh, you don't want to get me started, that's the worst thing you ever want to do,''' Moss said. ''The energy level was there and I just had to get us off with a touchdown.''

The other was on a play that was all Moss. He took a swing pass at the scrimmage line on the third play of the second half. In one step, he was in high gear. Moss ran right past Kevin Mathis down the left sideline for the 68-yard score.

''Not a lot of people can make that play,'' Carter said of Moss, who runs a sub-4.2 for 40 yards. ''It was unbelievable that he could outrun the angle they had on him and make that play in traffic. His nickname is 'Super Freak,' and he showed why.''

Robert Smith, the other star of Minnesota's dynamic offense, had a 2-yard TD run as the Vikings (12-5) moved on. They will play the winner of Sunday's Philadelphia-New York Giants game for a spot in the Super Bowl. The vocal Metrodome crowd of 63,881 chanted ''Let's go Eagles'' as the final seconds ticked away, hoping for the NFC title game to be back in Minnesota.

''We have no effect on that game and who we play,'' said coach Dennis Green, who has his team one step from the Super Bowl for the second time in three seasons.

The Saints (11-7) knew they needed a strong pass rush. But the NFL leaders with 66 sacks rarely pressured Culpepper and did not sack him. And the second-year quarterback picked apart a defense that helped Jim Haslett win Coach of the Year honors in his first year in charge of the Saints.

''When you play a team with a Moss and a Carter, I don't think you would be happy with any of our DBs today,'' said Haslett, who got into a shouting match with Carter late in the third quarter. They shook hands at the end of the game.

''He's a great receiver,'' Haslett said. ''He likes to play the crowd.''

Raiders 27, Dolphins 0

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Oakland cornerback Tory James shut down the Miami Dolphins right from the start by high-stepping his way into the end zone.

James' 90-yard interception return started the Raiders on a 27-0 rout of the Dolphins on Saturday and advanced Oakland to the AFC championship game for the first time in 10 years.

The Raiders (13-4), who have not been in the playoffs since 1993, will play the winner of Sunday's game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Tennessee Titans.

Rich Gannon completed 12 of 18 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown. Tyrone Wheatley ran for another score and rookie Sebastian Janikowski kicked two field goals.

The Dolphins (12-6), who had won three straight regular-season games in Oakland, couldn't overcome a 20-0 first-half deficit. The Raiders have allowed just two touchdowns in their last 15 quarters at home.

It was the latest playoff humiliation for the Dolphins, who have been beaten by the combined score of 127-10 at this stage of playoffs the last three years.

Last season, the Dolphins were blown out 62-7 by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the divisional playoff game. Two years ago, they were defeated 38-3 in the playoffs by the Denver Broncos.

Miami's Jay Fiedler was 17-of-38 for 176 yards and three interceptions.

The Raiders couldn't get much done offensively on their first series, so their defense helped out on Miami's first possession.

With the Dolphins on the Raiders' 17, James intercepted Fiedler's pass for Leslie Shepherd and ran it back for the touchdown -- high-stepping with fellow cornerback Charles Woodson for the final 25 yards.

It was the first career touchdown for James, a five-year NFL veteran in his first season with the Raiders. He added another interception in the fourth quarter.

''Before I go to sleep, I always visualize making plays,'' James said. ''It seems like today my dreams came true.''

The Raiders had the league's 17th-ranked defense, the weakest of any team in the playoffs.

Oakland went up 10-0 on Janikowski's 36-yard field goal with 4:52 left in the first quarter. He added a 33-yard field goal midway through the second quarter.

Janikowski, the 17th pick overall and the only kicker taken in the first round since 1979, has hit 18 of his last 22 field goal attempts. His 58-yard field goal attempt at the end of the first half fell short.

Turnovers hurt the Dolphins. Woodson recovered Lamar Smith's fumble on Miami's 43, and Gannon hit James Jett with a 6-yard touchdown pass with 1:53 to go before halftime.

The Dolphins' sixth-ranked defense couldn't stop the pumped-up Raiders, who had not hosted a playoff game in Oakland since 1980.

In the first half alone, Gannon completed 10-of-13 passes for 117 yards. In the second half, the Raiders' top-rated rushing offense took over.

Wheatley, the Raiders' top back with 242 carries for a career-high 1,046 yards and nine touchdowns in the regular season, scored from two yards out with 5:56 left in the third quarter.

Gannon, named to the Pro Bowl and the All-Pro Team, ran five times for four first downs.

James, who had been obscured by the skills of Woodson and Eric Allen, almost added another touchdown as well.

Late in the third quarter, the ball was knocked from Fiedler's hands in what appeared to be a fumble. James scooped up the ball and ran it back 47 yards into the end zone -- again accompanied by Woodson.

But Fielder's throw was ruled an incomplete pass, negating James' effort.

The Raiders' defense effectively shut down Dolphins' running back Smith, who came into the game with 13 touchdowns in Miami's last 10 games. He finished with eight carries for four yards, a week after rushing for 209 yards on a playoff-record 40 carries.

Receiver Oronde Gadsden managed just one catch for 33 yards.

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