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Vikings come up lame, get help from Saints

LANDOVER, Md. (AP) -- Once again, the Minnesota Vikings collapsed
under the weight of late-season pressure.

How, then, will they be able to handle postseason pressure?

They'll get a chance to find out. The Vikings qualified for the
playoffs Sunday despite a .500 record and a second straight
December swoon. With a chance to secure a berth on their own, they
played an uptight 21-18 loss to the Washington Redskins and
clinched their spot only because New Orleans beat Carolina.

"This team's going to drive me crazy," said coach Mike Tice,
in the playoffs for the first time since taking over from Dennis
Green during the 2001 season.

"You spend the whole week trying to make sure they understand
that you don't want to get yourself too worked up or too uptight,
and you don't want to go out and play like you can't make a
mistake. When you play like that, you go out and make mistakes."

And mistakes there were, enough to make any coach cringe. Randy
Moss killed a first-half drive with a false-start penalty on
third-and-goal at the 1-yard line. Nate Burleson dropped a sure
touchdown pass deep over the middle in the fourth quarter. Moss had
a juggling long touchdown pass in the second half negated by a
holding penalty on right tackle Adam Goldberg.

The Vikings finished 8-8, losing seven of their last 10 after a
5-1 start. Last year, they fell from 6-0 to 9-7 and were eliminated
by a touchdown pass on the last play of the season in an 18-17 loss
to Arizona. Tice jokingly referred to himself as "Coach Collapse"
last week in an effort to lighten the mood. Now he has to come up
with a new ploy for next weekend's playoff game at Green Bay.

"Most people say we backed into the playoffs. Yeah, that's
true," Tice said. "Fortunately, we start off the same with 0-0.
Unfortunately, we certainly don't come into this thing with any
tremendous rhythm."

As Tice spoke, the lights went out in the news conference room
for a few seconds.

"Believe me, that's how our whole season's gone," he said.

The Redskins (6-10) rallied to give a spirited finishing
performance to Joe Gibbs' disappointing comeback season, his worst
in 13 years with the Redskins. The Hall of Fame coach plans to keep
working nonstop to restore his legacy.

"I'm anxious to get started. The offseason will be a big time
for us. I think it will be one of the most important six months of
my coaching career, trying to help ourselves every way we can,"
Gibbs said. "I think the most important thing is that our guys
went and finished strong. I think they made a commitment there with
nothing on the line but pride."

Patrick Ramsey completed 17 of 26 passes for 216 yards with two
touchdowns and one interception, and Ladell Betts ran 26 times for
a career-high 118 yards subbing for injured back Clinton Portis.
The Redskins scored more than two touchdowns for only the second
time all season.

"Maybe they didn't think we had anything to play for,"
defensive end Renaldo Wynn said. "They don't know this team."

The defense rattled Minnesota quarterback Daunte Culpepper with
four sacks and several times forced him to throw the ball away.
Culpepper completed 27 of 44 passes for 299 yards and two
touchdowns. His last pass was a 38-yard desperation touchdown to
Marcus Robinson with 2 seconds remaining.

The Vikings failed to recover the subsequent onside kick, then
went to the locker room and waited for the Saints to finish off a
21-18 win. They spoke of getting revenge on the Packers, who beat
Minnesota twice this season on a late-second field goals.

"Nobody has won the Super Bowl at 8-8," Culpepper said. "But
my whole life I have been defining history, so it ain't no thing
for me to do it again."

Moss caught just five passes for 66 yards, including an
acrobatic 28-yard touchdown pass over safety Sean Taylor that cut
the Redskins' lead to 14-10 late in the third quarter.

The Vikings' offensive troubles were startling, considering they
were playing a depleted Redskins defense. Fred Smoot didn't play
because of a bruised kidney, and Shawn Springs missed part of the
third quarter after falling ill at halftime.

The loss would have been uglier were it not for defensive tackle
Kevin Williams, who had two sacks and created two turnovers inside
Minnesota's 25-yard line. Williams intercepted a pass in the first
half and stripped the ball from Ramsey in the second.

Yet, the Vikings are playoff-bound.

"It is mixed emotions," Burleson said. "The best emotion is
excitement. Any team would be happy to get into the playoffs."

Game notes
Vikings strong safety Corey Chavous' status for the
playoffs is in doubt after he broke his left elbow on a running
play. Minnesota receiver Kelly Campbell sprained his right
shoulder. ... The Redskins committed three penalties for a
season-low 13 yards. They fell 55 yards short of breaking the
franchise record of 1,110 set in 1948.