-- The Minnesota Vikings could have used a huge road victory Monday night to cement their status as an NFC heavyweight after an impressive season-opening triumph at home over the Dallas Cowboys.
They didn't get it, squandering a string of scoring chances and losing to the Philadelphia Eagles, 27-16. Doubts probably will linger around the league about the Vikings, who won only three road games last season and let a 6-0 start give way to a 3-7 finish and no playoff berth. But several Eagles players said late Monday night at Lincoln Financial Field that they remain convinced the Vikings are for real.
"That was a good ballclub out there,'' Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb said. "They're a team we're maybe going to see again" in the playoffs.
Minnesota's offense lost starting right tackle Mike Rosenthal on Monday to a broken right foot that will likely end his season. He'll be replaced by Adam Haayer. The Vikings also were without tailback Michael Bennett and tight end Jim Kleinsasser, who have knee injuries. Kleinsasser probably will have to undergo season-ending surgery but Bennett should return next month to give quarterback Daunte Culpepper another top offensive option to go with wide receivers Randy Moss, Marcus Robinson and Nate Burleson.
The Vikings moved the ball against the Philadelphia defense but were done in by mistakes. Culpepper threw for 343 yards and a touchdown on the heels of his 242-yard, five-touchdown performance against the Cowboys. But he fumbled at the Eagles' goal line in the second quarter. The Vikings had a third-quarter touchdown negated by a holding call on center Matt Birk, and Moss killed a drive in the fourth quarter by shoving Eagles cornerback Roderick Hood for a pass interference penalty. Minnesota managed only three field goals by Morten Andersen until finally getting into the end zone on Culpepper's four-yard pass to Moss with 31/2 minutes left.
"You can't go out there against a good team like this and expect to win kicking field goals,'' Vikings Coach Mike Tice said.
Tice had to answer for failing to challenge a 45-yard touchdown pass from McNabb to wideout Terrell Owens with less than eight minutes left that gave the Eagles a 24-9 lead. Owens appeared to be juggling the ball as he went out of bounds, but Tice said Vikings coaches in the booth didn't see a replay until after the extra point and kickoff, when it was too late.
"After the kickoff, my guys said he was bobbling it and out of bounds,'' Tice said, "but that didn't help any of us at the point when it happened.''
Still, the Vikings played the powerhouse Eagles on relatively even terms. They have a talented defensive line and Antoine Winfield gives them a potential top-notch cornerback, even if he was beaten for Owens's touchdown. Moss puts up numbers like he did Monday -- eight catches for 69 yards and a touchdown -- even when he doesn't play particularly well, and the Vikings get to return to the Metrodome this weekend to face the Chicago Bears.
"We have to keep our heads up and put this game behind us,'' tailback Onterrio Smith said. "We knew that we were not going to go 16-0 probably during the season . . . but we know that we do have the potential to be a great team.''
Philadelphia's Experienced Strategist
At 63, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson might not get the shot at a head coaching job that he has deserved, but he is nonetheless one of the league's top strategists. He came up with a scheme for Monday's game that had defensive end Jevon Kearse occasionally lining up at linebacker to shadow Culpepper. Kearse was credited with only two tackles and didn't have a sack, but he applied near-constant pressure to Culpepper that helped young cornerbacks Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown stay with Moss and Robinson. . . .
Culpepper's two fumbles Monday gave him 70 in 60 career games. . . . Andersen played in his 340th NFL game, tying George Blanda for the most in league history. . . .
Arbitrator Richard Bloch heard arguments by attorneys for the league and the NFL Players Association in the Miami area in the Dolphins' grievance against Ricky Williams. The team is attempting to recoup $8.6 million from the tailback, who retired just before training camp opened.
Browns' Brown Sidelined Again
When the Cleveland Browns had the top overall pick in the 2000 draft, they were forced to choose between Penn State teammates Courtney Brown and LaVar Arrington. They went with Brown because they felt a dominant pass rusher is worth more than a linebacker in today's NFL. But for the fourth straight year, Brown has suffered a season-ending injury.
The Browns announced late Monday that Brown has a Lisfranc injury in his left foot, a mid-foot fracture named for the French doctor who first described the injury. Brown has played only 47 games in five seasons and has 17 sacks. He hasn't played all 16 games in a season since his rookie year and he never has had more than six sacks in a season. . . .
The New Orleans Saints will have to rely on Aaron Stecker and Ki-Jana Carter to carry their running game with tailback Deuce McAllister sidelined for about five weeks by a high ankle sprain. . . . The Jacksonville Jaguars have totaled only 20 points in wins over Buffalo and Denver. They are the first NFL team since the 1942 Chicago Cardinals to start a season 2-0 while scoring 20 or fewer points. . . .
Quarterback Drew Brees likely will be back in San Diego's lineup Sunday in Denver after suffering a concussion in a loss to the Jets. He has another round of tests scheduled for Wednesday. . . . Ken Dorsey is scheduled to get his second straight start at quarterback for San Francisco on Sunday at Seattle in place of the injured Tim Rattay, and 49ers Coach Dennis Erickson is leaving open the possibility that Dorsey could keep the starting job if he plays well.
Holmes Recovering From Sprained Ankle
Kansas City could be without tailback Priest Holmes against Houston this weekend. Holmes sprained his left ankle in the fourth quarter of Sunday's loss at home to Carolina, which dropped the Chiefs to 0-2 and ended a 13-game regular season winning streak at home. But Coach Dick Vermeil said the Chiefs had Holmes on the sideline in the final minutes of the Panthers game by choice, opting to go with Derrick Blaylock while trying to play catch-up, not because of the injury. Vermeil indicated he didn't even know about the injury at the time. . . . The Broncos obtained defensive tackle Ellis Johnson from Atlanta in a trade Monday that sent a conditional 2005 draft pick to the Falcons. Johnson, who had eight sacks last season, did not report to the Falcons because of a contract dispute but plans to report to the Broncos, who had been looking to add depth to their defensive line even before Trevor Pryce's back injury. Pryce, who sat out the Jacksonville game Sunday because of a back injury, will undergo surgery today to have a disk fragment removed and is to miss four to six weeks. . . . Bears middle linebacker Brian Urlacher forced the fumble by Packers tailback Ahman Green that safety Mike Brown scooped up and returned 95 yards for a touchdown in Chicago's stunning win on Sunday. Urlacher, who blocked quarterback Brett Favre on the play, didn't force a fumble, recover a fumble or have an interception last season.