No wonder the Minnesota Vikings are on the fast track to the Super Bowl.
Cunningham and Moss, who destroyed Green Bay in their first meeting, did it again Sunday as Minnesota beat the Packers 28-14 to all but clinch the NFC Central. But they were almost a supporting cast to a defense that put them up 10-0 before the offense even had a first down.
"Any time you can hold that team to 14 points, you're playing good defense," coach Dennis Green said.
The win left the Vikings (10-1) three games ahead of Green Bay (7-4) in the NFC Central with five games left. Had they lost, they would have been just a game ahead facing a trip to Dallas for a Thanksgiving Day game.
Minnesota also has the tiebreaker because it won the first meeting, a 37-24 victory at Green Bay in which Cunningham threw over the Packers defense to Moss, Jake Reed and Cris Carter.
But the Vikings were jump-started by the defense in this game: Jimmy Hitchcock's 58-yard interception return and Gary Anderson's field goal after Tony Williams' recovery of Brett Favre's fumble gave Minnesota a quick 10-0 lead.
But it was sealed by offense, particularly Moss, who might have salted away offensive rookie of the year honors with eight catches for 153 yards and had a 61-yard reception negated by a penalty.
"Randy has that rare ability to make a play no matter whether he's covered or not," offensive coordinator Brian Billick said. "You know with him there always a chance he might pull this thing off and score. He's a little bit like Barry Sanders that ay -- well, I'd better not say that, because Barry's played so much longer."
| Minnesota's Jimmy Hitchcock returns his interception 58 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. (AP) |
Cunningham was 20-of-30 for 264 yards. But he didn't get started until after he came out of the first quarter with a 10-0 lead despite no first downs by the Minnesota offense.
Twice after Green Bay drew to within six points - once in the second quarter and once in the fourth - Cunningham drove Minnesota for scores, the second on a 49-yard TD pass to Moss with 3:17 left that put the game away.
"We know Brett is a great quarterback," Cunningham said. "But it makes a difference with all the talent we have here on offense. He has to score, but their defense has to stop us."
In this case, it was the Minnesota defense that made a difference.
With less than two minutes gone, Favre, who was 31-of-39 for 303 yards with those two critical turnovers, dropped the ball trying to pass. Williams picked it up and took it to the Green Bay 15. That set up Anderson's 35-yard field goal.
Ten minutes later, the Packers moved from their 20 to the Minnesota 45. But Favre, throwing off his back foot, lofted the ball in the flat and Hitchcock picked it off and sailed untouched into the end zone to make it 10-0.
Anderson's 29-yarder six minutes into the second quarter made it 13-0 before Favre drove Green Bay 80 yards in 11 plays, capping it with a 12-yard TD pass to Tyrone Davis.
But Cunningham brought the Vikings right back, moving 10 plays in 76 yards, finished off by a 4-yard TD pass to Carter.
"Their offense is going to score points," Favre said. "We had a chance to win at the end and that's all you can ask for."
Indeed they did.
Favre cut it to 20-14 with a 2-yarder to Davis on a 71-yard, 10-play drive in which he overcame five illegal procedure penalties.
But then Cunningham and Moss hooked up again.
None of this had coach Mike Holmgren of the Packers, who had won the division three straight times and the NFC title twice, conceding anything.
"I'm not ready to say that," Holmgren replied when he was asked if he thought Minnesota had proved itself the better team. "The game was real close in the fourth quarter after we gave up 10 points. No, I don't think anybody's better than us."
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