A first-year starter and a first-time backup rescued the mistake-prone Minnesota Vikings on Thursday night.
Jeff George outplayed starting quarterback Randall Cunningham again before injuring his left knee and second-year cornerback Ramos McDonald returned a fumble 59 yards for a TD as the Vikings edged the Philadelphia Eagles 17-13.
For the third straight exhibition game, Minnesota fumbled four times. It had five sacks. and even kicker Gary Anderson was off, missing short from 44 and 47 yards on the night he received an award for his perfect 1998 season.
"If we don't get things going, it's going to be a struggle," frustrated receiver Randy Moss said. "The expectations are so high, we have to have the attitude that we are ready to play. There was a lot of lackadaisical atmosphere out there."
In his first game against his original team, Cunningham was sacked four times and had three fumbles and no touchdowns, then watched George complete 9-of-13 for 152 yards.
George, who delivered a 9-yard TD strike to Carlester Crumpler for a 17-3 third-quarter lead, left with 11 minutes remaining after twisting his left knee, the same one he sprained three weeks ago, in a pileup.
"I'm OK," said George, a 10-year starter in the NFL who signed a $400,000 contract to revive his career in Minnesota. "I'm not the scrambler, I couln't get out of there fast enough. But I iced it down and walked around. I won't even miss practice tomorrow."
In three exhibition games, George is 24-for-29 for 348 yards, four TDs and no interceptions. Cunningham's stats aren't bad 24-of-33 for 234 yards but he has just one TD pass with the first-string offense that set a league scoring record last year.
"They made some great plays, they knocked the ball out of my hands a couple of times. That's great defense," Cunningham said.
"I got into a little bit of a groove," McNabb said. "I think the second team did a great job. The offensive line really stood its ground."
Both teams struggled through a fumble-filled first half and were knotted at 3 when the Vikings' defense came up big.
The Eagles (0-3) were driving with 1:09 left when Doug Pederson hit tight end Jed Weaver on a crossing pattern. As Weaver tried to get out of bounds, safety Robert Griffth dipped his shoulder and the ball popped loose.
"I knew they had him. It's not over 'till it's over," said McDonald, who has been inconsistent in place of Corey Fuller, who left for Cleveland.
McDonald grabbed the balland raced 59 yards down the left sideline for a 10-3 Vikings halftime lead.
"I just didn't want to go out of bounds," McDonald said. "It was sitting there and I just snatched it up."
Coach Dennis Green said he was glad McDonald scooped and didn't smother.
"Turnovers have been a big part of our football team's success," Green said. "It was a great hit by Robert Griffth, one of our best players, and Ramos scooped it up. Going and getting the points right there was very big."
Anderson's 29-yard field goal made it 3-0 for Minnesota (2-1).
Norm Johnson tied it with a 29-yarder after the Eagles continued their troublesome trend of bogging down inside the 20. He added a 51-yarder in the third quarter.
"It's disappointing," said Pederson, who finished 14-for-24 for 120 yards. "We had opportunities tonight. We faced one of the better teams in the NFC last year and we moved the ball."
Just not far enough.
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