Moss, Vikings sprint past Saints

All-Pro's 2 TD catches spark 34-16 NFC rout


MINNEAPOLIS - Randy Moss caught only two passes yesterday against the New Orleans Saints, but he might as well have caught 2 million.

The wide receiver opened both halves of the NFC divisional playoff game at the Metrodome with fireworks that rivaled those set off after the final second ticked off the clock. In the process, he led the Minnesota Vikings to a 34-16 victory.

Minnesota will meet the winner of today's game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants next Sunday for the NFC championship.

The Saints, who went into yesterday's game still high off a worst-to-first run in the NFC West and their first-ever playoff victory, were blown away by the raw athletic power of Moss, and they were not alone.

When Moss reeled in a pass from Daunte Culpepper and sped for a 53-yard touchdown on the Vikings' third offensive play, Culpepper's scary high ankle sprain was forgotten, but so were the foibles of the Minnesota defense and the three-game losing streak at the end of the regular season that had cost the team the NFC's top seed.

The 63,881 fans went off like a Roman candle, and players on both sidelines understood that there was no way to defend against what had just happened.

"Somebody had to ignite this crowd and my teammates," Moss said. "I was just starting the party."

Saints cornerback Fred Thomas, aware that he had safety help deep, tried to jam Moss but didn't do a good job of it, and the 6-foot-4, 198-pound All-Pro broke past him on a "go" route. Culpepper let fly, and Moss adjusted ever so slightly inside and to the front of safety Darren Perry, made the grab, and left Perry in a draft.

On the third play of the second half, Moss made a play that made the first one look routine.

The pattern Moss ran was a 5-yard square-out designed to take advantage of the fact that cornerback Kevin Mathis was playing 7 yards off the line of scrimmage.

But it was much more. Culpepper, who called an audible on the play, knew it. Cris Carter, Moss' receiving partner, knew it. And Moss did it.

Catching the ball at almost a dead stop, Moss went from near zero to hyperdrive in about a second, splitting Mathis and Perry with such speed that Carter didn't even need to block strong safety Sammy Knight, who had stepped up for run support.

Moss' long legs didn't stop churning until he had reached the end zone, giving the Vikings a 24-3 lead and the Saints a strong need for a hug.

Moss had gone 68 yards, making it two catches for 121 for the day. That equated to 60.5 yards a catch and a lot of heartache for the Saints' cornerbacks.

"There are not a lot of people who can make that play," said Carter, who caught eight passes for 120 yards and a touchdown. "That is unbelievable - to be able to catch the ball in all the traffic and not on a dead run.

"They had the angle on him, and he outran the angle," Carter said before alluding to Tennessee's Jevon Kearse, last season's NFL Rookie of the Year, who is known as "The Freak."

"A lot of people have nicknames," Carter said. "[Moss'] nickname is `Super Freak,' and that's the reason why."

Carter had a fine game. Running back Robert Smith ran for 74 yards and a touchdown - about as much as could be expected against the Saints' bruising defense. The Vikings' offensive line was outstanding in not yielding a sack to a defense that had produced an NFL-high 66 in the regular season.

But Moss was in his own galaxy. There were two passes that he dropped that would have gone for touchdowns.

"It's hard to explain," Moss said of his second touchdown. "Actually, I almost lost the ball. If the cornerback would have hit me when I caught the ball, I would have bobbled it or fumbled it.

"We talked about it all week - that they wanted to throw me the ball. Luckily, he threw me the ball and I split two guys and took it to the house."

"He is an exciting ballplayer," Saints defensive tackle La'Roi Glover said. "If you don't get guys around him up and wrap up and make tackles, he can do that."

Saints coach Jim Haslett, named the NFL's Coach of the Year yesterday, was happy about his team's season but not so pleased about the way it ended.

"Well, I'm not happy with any of our play today," he said. "But we played extremely well this year. I told them to keep their heads up. They should be proud of what we accomplished. ... We are building a good foundation for the future."

NOTE: Saints running back Ricky Williams returned for the first time since breaking his ankle in mid-November, but at only a fraction of his early-season form. He gained 14 yards in six carries and caught one pass for 2 yards.

New Orleans 3 0 7 6 - 16

Minnesota 10 7 10 7 - 34

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