Vikings' Moss having deep impact on NFC Central

WEEK 12 IN REVIEW

November 24, 1998|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

In a division owned by the Green Bay Packers the last three years, the Minnesota Vikings have found the great equalizer. Now everyone knows what coach Dennis Green knew last April when he took wide receiver Randy Moss with the 21st pick.

This wasn't the steal of the draft, it was the steal of the decade.

There is no minimizing Moss' impact on the Vikings in the NFC Central race. In two games against Green Bay this season, Moss turned the Packers into wild cards and the Vikings into front-runners.

His marvelous 49-yard touchdown catch between two defenders Sunday effectively ended the Packers' reign in the division. The Vikings (10-1) lead the Packers (7-4) by three games with five to play. By virtue of Minnesota's season sweep, it's really a four-game lead.

Barring major injury, the Vikings should get home-field advantage in the playoffs, even though both the Packers and San Francisco 49ers (8-3) have cupcake schedules the rest of the way.

That means the Packers will have to win in the noisy Metrodome -- where they've won just once in seven tries under Mike Holmgren -- to reach a third straight Super Bowl.

They'll also have to figure out how to stop Moss, the electrifying 6-foot-4 rookie receiver who had off-the-field problems in college. Moss had five catches for 190 yards and two touchdowns in Minnesota's 37-24 win at Green Bay on Oct. 5. In Sunday's 28-14 victory, he had eight for 153 and the game-breaking touchdown.

That's 13 receptions for 343 yards and three touchdowns. That's 26.4 yards per catch. And it doesn't count touchdowns of 61 and 75 yards he lost to penalties.

In Week 5, the Packers pressed Moss at the line of scrimmage and got burned repeatedly. In Week 12, they played back and got burned repeatedly. Yes, Green Bay's defensive strategy was stifled when it lost cornerback Craig Newsome to injury in the second quarter. But that merely underscored the gap that separates the teams.

The Vikings have an offense that can strike from anywhere on the field and at almost any position. The Packers, reduced this week to screen passes and dial-a-prayers, put everything on Brett Favre. Though Favre is fiercely competitive, he has thrown 17 interceptions this season. That suggests the load is too heavy.

Could the Packers beat the Vikings in Minnesota? Yes, they could. They're still defending NFC champs.

Will it help when the Packers get injured running back Dorsey Levens back in December? If Levens runs like last year, it will.

But keep in mind, Levens is no Randy Moss.

Raising Arizona

The race for the NFC's last wild-card berth also came into sharp focus this week. Arizona's pulsating 45-42 win over hapless Washington, coupled with a made-to-order finishing schedule, should give the Cardinals their first playoff bid in 16 years.

The Cardinals (6-5) close with Kansas City, the New York Giants, Philadelphia, New Orleans and San Diego. There's not a team with a winning record in the bunch. New Orleans (5-6) is just one game back, but has a difficult finishing schedule (Miami, Dallas, Atlanta, Arizona, Buffalo).

Tampa Bay (4-7), meanwhile, suffered a critical loss to Detroit to fall two games back and essentially out of the running.

The petulant one

Jerry Rice, the 49ers' All-Pro receiver, was pouting again this week after a 31-20 win over the Saints. The petulant Rice is frustrated he has to share the football with Terrell Owens and J. J. Stokes. Stokes had six catches Sunday night and Owens scored two touchdowns, this while Rice had three catches for 27 yards.

Rice was visibly miffed on the field, and afterward raised the possibility of retirement after this season. Maybe he should read the stat sheet. He has a team-high 61 catches for a team-high 906 yards and six touchdowns. Poor Jerry.

The more, the merrier

With Paul Justin starting for Cincinnati and Kent Graham for the Giants, that raises to 51 the number of different quarterbacks who have started games this season in the NFL. There were 58 different starters a year ago.

By the numbers

Denver's Terrell Davis has 7,007 career yards rushing and receiving. Only Eric Dickerson (7,842) produced more yards in his first four NFL seasons. Philadelphia quarterback Bobby Hoying does not have a touchdown pass in 127 attempts this season, and Eagles cornerbacks do not have an interception in 304 passes. In two games against the Packers, Vikings quarterback Randall Cunningham has completed 64.5 percent of his throws for 706 yards and six TDs, averaging an amazing 11.39 yards per attempt. In his past four games, Cardinals quarterback Jake Plummer has completed 61.2 percent for 1,100 yards and eight scores. Washington has allowed 20 rushing touchdowns already this season, and Cincinnati 16.

Parting shot

Former Ravens receiver Derrick Alexander had this to say after Kansas City blew a 17-point lead and lost, 38-37, to San Diego: "I feel like I am back in Baltimore. We get out to a big lead and we can't hold on to it."

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