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THE NFL / 1996

Vikings Lower Boom on Cardinals

December 02, 1996|From Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS — Backed into a win-or-else December by their own blunders, the Minnesota Vikings, who play indoors, came out Sunday in . . . a fog.

That's what it felt like to Brad Johnson, anyway.

Johnson threw a career-high four touchdowns and the Vikings stymied Boomer Esiason and the NFL's hottest offense for a 41-17 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

"It was kind of like a daze out there. It was just happenin'," Johnson said. "Hopefully I can be in a fog the next three weeks."

The Vikings (7-6) will need that if they are to return to the playoffs after a one-year absence. They gave themselves a chance by playing easily their best game of the season and winning at home for the first time since Oct. 6.

Their 41 points were the most since a 44-24 victory at Pittsburgh in the third week last year and the final margin was the largest since a 28-point victory at Chicago two years ago.

After losing six of their previous eight games, the Vikings remained one game out of the final playoff spot. Dallas, Washington and Philadelphia, three of the six teams ahead of the Vikings, each are 8-5.

"We've got our work cut out for us," said linebacker Jeff Brady. "We've got to win the next three to get in. We know that, and today was a big confidence booster. We know we're not out of it yet."

The Cardinals (6-7), who came into the game with a three-game winning streak, are awfully close to being eliminated for the 20th consecutive non-strike season.

They hurt themselves with three costly turnovers and 10 penalties, several sustaining Minnesota scoring drives, and they gave up their most points since a 41-3 loss at Washington on Nov. 29, 1992.

"I've been saying all week that NFL means 'Not For Long,' " Esiason said. "Sometimes, just when you think you've arrived, you get humbled, you get knocked back a rung."

Esiason, who had passed for 1,159 yards the last three weeks, finished 26 for 40 for 270 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions. Larry Centers scored both touchdowns for the Cardinals, whose 280 total yards were 190 below their average of the past three weeks.

Minnesota did it by shutting down Esiason until the game was out of reach and turning the three turnovers--two interceptions and a fumble by Esiason--into 17 points.

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