MINNEAPOLIS — When veteran receiver Cris Carter aggravated an injury during the pregame warmups, rookie receiver Randy Moss was ready to take over.
And he did just that, catching three touchdown passes for the second consecutive game game as the Vikings beat the Chicago Bears, 48-22, on Sunday night to clinch their first NFC Central title since 1994.
"I told Cris that if I have to tote the load, I'm willing to do that," Moss said.
Along with the division title--the Vikings (12-1) modeled purple division-champion hats and white T-shirts on the sideline late in the game--Minnesota guaranteed itself a first-round playoff bye, the first time it has earned that during Coach Dennis Green's seven seasons.
Moss, who burned Dallas for 163 yards and three touchdowns on Thanksgiving, caught scoring passes of six, three and 34 yards from Randall Cunningham against the overmatched Bears (3-10), who lost their fifth in a row.
Moss has an NFL-best 14 touchdown catches, breaking the league rookie mark of 13 set by Green Bay's Bill Howton in 1952 and matched by San Diego's John Jefferson in 1979.
Cunningham, who has started all but two games this season because of injuries to Brad Johnson, threw four touchdown passes for the second consecutive game and fourth time this season, setting a team record. One of them went to running back Leroy Hoard, who was subbing for the injured Robert Smith. Hoard scored twice, giving him 10 touchdowns for the season.
"If you told us before the season that at some point in time we'd lose our starting quarterback, our two starting receivers and our starting running back and we'd be 12-1, I would never have believed it," said Cunningham, who was 21 for 31 for 349 yards.