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Vikings' Collapse Is Now Complete

December 29, 2003|From Associated Press

TEMPE, Ariz. — Arizona's Nathan Poole was Randy Moss' college teammate and spent all week pretending to be him on the scout team.

The impersonation reached perfection Sunday with Poole's 28-yard touchdown pass from Josh McCown as time expired that knocked the stunned Minnesota Vikings out of the playoffs.

The play on fourth and 25 rallied the Cardinals to an 18-17 victory and robbed the Vikings of the NFC North title.

"You don't have any clue how much it hurts," Minnesota's Corey Chavous said.

The Vikings joined the 1978 Washington Redskins as the only teams to start a season 6-0 and not make the playoffs.

"I really can't put into words how I feel right now," quarterback Daunte Culpepper said. "It's just terrible that you fight that hard all year just trying to stay alive, and lose it like that."

Poole caught the ball near the sideline in the end zone and was ruled forced out by Denard Walker and Brian Russell. The touchdown gave the Green Bay Packers the division title.

"We said 'Let's be the best receiver corps on the field,' " Poole said. "I don't know about stats-wise, but we came out with the victory, so we were the best receiving corps out there."

Referees reviewed the play to see whether Poole had control when he went out of bounds.

McCown had been sacked on second and third downs, and Arizona barely got the final play off with four seconds to go.

"A lot of things go through your head when you get outside the pocket in that situation, a do-or-die situation," said McCown, a second-year pro who started the last three games. "The ball has to go up, but you want to put it in a safe spot and give a guy a chance to make a play."

Arizona cut the lead to 17-12 on McCown's desperation, fourth-and-goal two-yard touchdown pass to Steve Bush with 1:54 to play. A short pass to Emmitt Smith fell a yard shy of the goal line for the two-point conversion.

But Damien Anderson recovered the on-side kick for Arizona, and a 30-yard pass-interference call against Walker put the Cardinals at the Minnesota 31.

McCown threw 13 yards to Poole to the 13, but sacks by Kevin Williams and Chris Hovan seemed to doom them before the last-play heroics instead saved them.

"If you're going to be a champion, you've got to close it out," Minnesota Coach Mike Tice said, "and we didn't close it out."

The Vikings (9-7) needed a win or a Green Bay loss to win the division and earn their first playoff berth since 2000.

The Cardinals (4-12) snapped a seven-game losing streak in what might have been Dave McGinnis' final game as coach.

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