Saturday, August 24, 2002

Vikings 14, Titans 10

The Associated Press

        MINNEAPOLIS — Randy Moss appears ready for the regular season, and so does the rest of Minnesota's offense. Moss had four catches for 76 yards and a touchdown Friday night, leading the Vikings to a 14-10 victory over a diluted version of the Tennessee Titans in the teams' second-to-last exhibition game.

        Guiding the first-teamers for a half, Daunte Culpepper had a few overthrows mixed in with a 10-of-15, 137-yard night. But a perfectly thrown 67-yard pass to Moss on the first snap of the second quarter showed he's not far off, either.

        “I think we're getting to the point where we need to be,” Culpepper said. “I'm loving it. I'm very excited about what our offense can do.”

        The Vikings netted 189 yards in the first half. Beating Dainon Sidney deep, Moss — to whom Minnesota has pledged to throw 40 percent of its passes — was tackled just inches from the goal line. Culpepper's sneak two plays later gave the Vikings a 7-0 lead.

        With a minute remaining before halftime, Moss capped a 10-play, 75-yard drive against mostly second-stringers with a wide-open, 4-yard TD reception on a quick slant pattern that made it 14-3.

        Moss darted from the locker room after the game almost as quickly as he ran down the field during it. But Culpepper was full of compliments for his star receiver.

        “The difference this year is he's doing the small things,” Culpepper said. “The key blocks downfield. Lining up on the right and going in motion. Those are the things that make our whole team better.”

        Titans quarterback Billy Volek played the entire second half and was 15-of-23 for 123 yards and an interception. He threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to John Simon with 2 seconds left to pull Tennessee within 14-10.

        “It was nice to get one in the end zone at the end,” Volek said. “I need to be more consistent.”

        Cornerback Samari Rolle was one of three Tennessee regulars who didn't even dress because of injuries, and the Titans held out six other starters who were slightly hurt — including quarterback Steve McNair, running back Eddie George and tight end Frank Wycheck.

        “Considering how many players sat out, I thought the players in there worked hard and did a good job overall,” said Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher, who plans to use his starters more next week at Green Bay.

        “We can't be satisfied, but I believe we're on track,” Fisher said.

        The first-teamers who were healthy played well into the second quarter, but No. 2 quarterback Neil O'Donnell was pressured and looked a little out of synch despite completing eight of his first 10 passes and finishing 9-of-14 for 119 yards.

        Neither Robert Holcombe nor Skip Hicks, both vying to be George's backup, were impressive.

        Holcombe beat Vikings starting middle linebacker Henri Crockett for a 20-yard swing pass on Tennessee's first play from scrimmage, but he had only 16 yards rushing on six carries. Hicks ran eight times for 21 yards.

        “I don't care who's running the ball — when you hold a team to 2.6 yards per carry, that's pretty good stuff,” Minnesota coach Mike Tice said.

        Tight end Erron Kinney (five catches, 58 yards) and wide receiver Eddie Berlin (five catches, 76 yards) were open often against a revamped Minnesota defense that probably will take a while to mesh.

        Tackling could have been a lot better, too, but the Vikings did have four sacks for 35 yards.

        Kenny Mixon stopped Hicks for no gain on fourth-and-1 at the Vikings' 13 late in the first quarter, and later Crockett and Lance Johnstone stuffed Holcombe at the line on a third-and-1.

        “Teams think they can come in here and run fourth-and-1 on us,” tackle Chris Hovan said. “Big plays like that are what we're going to need in the regular season.”

        Hovan hurried O'Donnell into a bad pass that deflected off Hicks' hands at the Minnesota 5 midway though the second quarter, and the Titans settled for a 27-yard field goal by Joe Nedney.

        The kicking game looks like a bigger concern for the Vikings. Doug Brien, signed as a free agent to replace the retired Gary Anderson, was wide left on a 39-yarder and is 1-for-5 in the preseason.

        Rookie Todd France is also on the roster.

        “We can't continue to miss field goals,” Tice said. “We have to look at that.”

        Minnesota's James Wofford, who rushed 11 times for 52 yards, hurt his knee in the fourth quarter and didn't return as a precaution.


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