The big play is back in Minnesota's repertoire. The big goof remains in Denver's.
Cris Carter and Leroy Hoard tore off huge gains yesterday, and the Vikings profited from critical mistakes by the Broncos to win, 23-20, at Mile High Stadium.
Gary Anderson's 23-yard field goal with one second left won it. Previously quiet, Randy Moss had a 23-yard reception, then caught a ball tipped by cornerback Ray Crockett--who was torched all day--to convert a third-and-10 on the winning drive. Carter made a sensational tip-toe sideline catch to the 3-yard line before Anderson's kick. Minnesota, which had the league's best record last season, 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.
Hoard broke off a 53-yard run in the second quarter--on a third-and-37 play--for the longest rush of his career. "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."
Carter caught two touchdown passes from Jeff George, easily beating single coverage while the Broncos continually put two men on Moss. Carter finished with 144 yards on eight catches. He had five catches for 87 yards in the fourth.
Broncos quarterback Brian Griese was intercepted once for a touchdown, lost a fumble and was sacked four times. "Morale is not good," Griese said. "I am going to fight and anybody who wants to fight with me can come along."
PATRIOTS 27, CARDINALS 3: Enough of those close victories for New England. For the first time this season, the Patriots won in a breeze. Drew Bledsoe matched his career high with four touchdown passes, two to Shawn Jefferson, as New England beat host Arizona to improve to 6-2, the Patriots' best start since 1980.
Bledsoe, who completed 14 of 22 passes for 276 yards and was not intercepted, threw for three touchdowns in the first half as New England blew open a 20-0 lead. He warmed up with a three-yard scoring pass to Lamont Warren, then connected with Jefferson on touchdown plays of 64 and 35 yards.
"It was ugly today," Arizona free safety Kwamie Lassiter said.
Bledsoe threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to Terry Glenn on the second play of the fourth quarter to put the Patriots up, 27-3.
The Cardinals (2-5) were coming off a bye week, but their offense, ranked 29th in the NFL, was as ineffective as ever. Dave Brown, starting at quarterback in place of injured Jake Plummer, completed 12 of 33 passes for 107 yards and was intercepted twice.
JAGUARS 41, BENGALS 10: In Cincinnati, Fred Taylor's big game sent the Bengals to one of the worst defeats in their history. Taylor, playing for the first time in four weeks because of a hamstring injury, rushed for 126 yards in the first half to lead the Jaguars.
The Jaguars had little trouble improving to 6-1 for the first time in their five seasons. They scored on their first five possessions, piling up a 27-0 lead.
"This game was kind of personal for the offense," tackle Leon Searcy said. "We have been overshadowed by the defense the past couple of weeks. We just wanted to gain some of that notoriety."
The Bengals (1-7) lost rookie quarterback Akili Smith with a sprained toe after the first half.
FALCONS 27, PANTHERS 20: Atlanta finally did some of the things that carried it to the Super Bowl last season.
Tim Dwight caught a pair of touchdown passes from Chris Chandler, and the NFC champions won for the first time in Atlanta this season. The Falcons (2-6) twice built 14-point leads before Carolina's Steve Beuerlein scored on a one-yard sneak with 3 minutes 6 seconds remaining. The Panthers (2-5) got the ball back at their own 29 with 15 seconds left, but Gerald McBurrows came up with his team's third interception against Beuerlein to clinch the victory.
In addition to the three interceptions, Beuerlein also lost two fumbles--one setting up a Falcons touchdown, the other stopping a Carolina drive deep in Atlanta territory. "I've never been responsible for five turnovers in my life," said Beuerlein (21 of 35, 256 yards). "Today, it happened."