Vikings turnaround continues with victory over Rams

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Brad Johnson isn't surprised by anything the
Minnesota Vikings' defense does anymore.

"Our defense is playing unbelievable and that's what's expected
of those guys," Johnson said following a 27-13 victory over the
St. Louis Rams on Sunday.

It's been a long, long time since such high expectations have
been bestowed upon this defense, which has amazingly thrust the
Vikings back into contention for the NFC North title.

The Vikings forced six turnovers and held Steven Jackson to 67
yards rushing in their sixth straight victory.

With Chicago (9-4) losing at Pittsburgh, the Vikings (8-5)
pulled within one game of the division lead in a season that
appeared lost after a 2-5 start. And the Bears still have to come
to town on the final Sunday of the season.

"It is hard not to look ahead," receiver Koren Robinson said.
"You just have to stay focused and understand that if we don't
handle our business, regardless of what the Bears do, we're going
to miss the playoffs."


Even mentioning that word would have been ludicrous six weeks
ago, when the Vikings appeared to be spiraling out of control with
myriad mistakes on the field and an embarrassing boat party scandal
off it.

That was before the defense, with five new starters, started
coming together. Now that it has, the wins just keep on coming.

"I think we're jelling," said cornerback Brian Williams.
"Everybody's just putting it together and figuring out what our
defense is all about."

Vikings defenders have long held starring roles in highlight
reels for the "Greatest Show on Turf," allowing an average of 47
points and 456 yards in three straight losses to the Rams.

Williams led the way with two interceptions as the Vikings
confused and battered rookie quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was
26-of-44 for 235 yards and five interceptions for the fading Rams

"It was a disappointing game," Fitzpatrick said. "I made some
mistakes and it seemed like every time I made a mistake, they
capitalized on it."

Behind quarterbacks Kurt Warner and Marc Bulger, the Rams scored
137 points in routes in 2003 and 2000 and an NFC divisional playoff
win after the 1999 season.

Bulger (shoulder) has missed the last three games and
Fitzpatrick clearly is not in that class. He made several poor
decisions, including throwing a ball right to Vikings cornerback
Antoine Winfield deep in Rams territory with less than 2 minutes to
play in the first half.

That set up Paul Edinger's second field goal and gave the
Vikings a 13-6 halftime lead.

"He didn't have a very good day today," Rams interim coach Joe
Vitt said of Fitzpatrick. "I thought the protection was good. I
thought his ball was sailing on his outs."

Robinson, Michael Bennett and Ciatrick Fason all scored
touchdowns on the ground for the Vikings, who have been
conservative and efficient during their turnaround, all with
Johnson starting for the injured Daunte Culpepper at quarterback.

Johnson was 16-for-25 for 146 yards, once again avoiding the
costly mistakes that so plagued Culpepper early in the season.

Fitzpatrick tied the game at 13 with a 14-yard TD run early in
the third quarter, but the Vikings' defense shut out the Rams the
rest of the way and is allowing just 15.5 points a game during the
winning streak.

The Rams crumbled under the pressure, making mistake after
mistake to lose for the fourth time in five games.

In the third quarter, Bruce stumbled out of his break, and
Fitzpatrick's pass went right into the arms of Williams, who
returned it to the Rams 21 to setup Fason's 1-yard plunge and a
27-13 lead.

Fitzpatrick fumbled the snap on third-and-3 from the Vikings 37
on the ensuing possession, and Rex Tucker had a false start as the
Rams lined up to go for it on fourth-and-6, forcing a punt.

Kevin Curtis also dropped a pass in the end zone with 3 minutes
to go that would have pulled the Rams within a touchdown.

Isaac Bruce had five catches for 66 yards to move past Hall of
Famer Charlie Joiner for 10th place in NFL history with 12,181
yards. He also caught his 800th career pass in the game.

Torry Holt had 10 catches for 95 yards.

Game notes
Rex Tucker started in place of the injured Alex Barron
(thumb) at RT for the Rams. ... Holt passed Henry Ellard for second
in team history with 602 catches. ... Robinson's score was the just
the fourth rushing TD by a receiver in franchise history and the
first since Anthony Carter ran for one against Tampa Bay on Nov. 8,
1992. ... Vikings LB Keith Newman left in the second quarter with a
sprained right knee and did not return.


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