For 13 NFL seasons, Cris Carter has been a big-play artist. So when he says Sunday was a special performance, it means something.
Carter, helped by Leroy Hoard and Randy Moss, brought the big play back to Minnesota's repertoire in a 23-20 victory over Denver. The Vikings marched 73 yards in 13 plays, the most significant involving Carter, to Gary Anderson's 23-yard field goal with one second remaining.
"I knew they would put a lot of pressure on Randy. I was looking forward to going against Ray Crockett. It was a challenge to me."
He answered it with the kind of game only the best players provide.
Hoard found lots of open area, too, rushing for 84 yards. He got 53 in stunning fashion, on a third-and-37 in the second quarter.
"Everybody in the stadium said, `His slow butt won't get that,' " Hoard said with a laugh. "I'm not going to be making too many third-and-37s."
Moss was double-covered all day, but he did make a 23-yard reception to open the final drive. Then he caught a ball tipped by cornerback Crockett who was torched all day to convert a third-and-10 on the winning drive.
"Something inside tod me he was going to throw the ball to Cris," Moss said, "and my eyes saw the guy's hand bat the ball down, and it fell in my pocket."
Carter made a sensational tip-toe sideline catch to the 3 before Anderson's kick.
"Cris came up big on a couple of catches and made an incredible catch on the sidelines," Crockett said.
Minnesota, a league-best 15-1 last year, got back to .500 at 4-4. Denver, which won the last two Super Bowls, sank to 2-6, its worst halfway mark since 1972. The Broncos were victimized by inexperienced quarterback Brian Griese, who was picked off once for a touchdown and also lost a fumble. He was sacked four times.
"I didn't help, turning the ball over," he said. "If I don't turn the ball over on the 4, we win the game."
"I've never been in this situation before. Morale is not good. I am going to fight and anybody who wants to fight with me can come along."
If not for the play of receiver Rod Smith and some sharp running by rookie Olandis Gary, Denver would have fallen out of contention after opening a 12-0 lead. Instead, the Broncos tied it 20-20 on Griese's 1-yard pass to Byron Chamberlain after Smith made leaping catches of 25 and 18 yards.
Gary, who rushed for 79 yards, ran in the 2-point conversion.
Denver looked like a two-time champion early as Derek Loville burst through for a 36-yard touchdown only 2:48 into the game.
But then they began making errors, and the Vikings gratefully took advantage. Griese made a bad pitch to Gary, and Minnesota's Duane Clemons recovered at the Vikings 41.
Griese, perhaps rattled by a strong pass rush, later made a poor throw off the wrong foot from his 15. Orlando Thomas, who whiffed on a tackle on Loville's touchdown, picked it off and sped 27 yards into the end zone.
Two plays after Hoard's long run, Carter beat Tory James down the right sideline for a 37-yard TD and a 13-12 lead. A conversion pass failed.
The Broncos weren't through being charitable. Griese engineerd a spiffy drive of 74 yards, but fumbled on a run at the 4. Elam also missed a 37-yard field goal.
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