Rolling Moss Leaves No Stone Unturned

Times Staff Writer

Call it sandlot. Call it playground. Just don’t call it blind luck.

Minnesota receiver Randy Moss knew just what he was doing on a 59-yard touchdown Sunday when he caught a pass for 44 yards, then -- as two Denver players were pulling him to the turf -- flipped a no-look lateral to teammate Moe Williams, who glided the final 15 yards into the end zone for what could be the most jaw-dropping NFL highlight of the season.

It was a busted play turned Bronco buster.

“I didn’t really see Moe coming, but I saw a jersey that happened to be the color I had on,” said Moss, whose Globetrotter instincts kicked in on the final play of the first half and gave the undefeated Vikings a huge lift in their 28-20 victory at the Metrodome.


“We made eye contact as soon as he caught it,” Williams said. “I was yelling, ‘Moss! Moss! Moss!’ ”

It wasn’t pure improvisation. Moss, Williams and a few other Vikings end practice each day by working on hook-and-ladder plays -- sometimes to the annoyance of their head coach.

“I don’t particularly like it that much, but you can’t take all the fun out of the game,” Coach Mike Tice said. “You want to have a little bit of fun, so they do it all the time in practice. I roll my eyes and cringe ... but I guess I’ll let them keep doing it.”

Why mess with Minnesota’s mojo? The Vikings (6-0) have a 3 1/2-game lead in the NFC North and proved to the league they can beat a very good team. Coming into the game against the Broncos (5-2), the Vikings had collected five consecutive victories against teams that were a combined 8-20.


“This gives us momentum,” said defensive end Lance Johnstone, who got the game ball after recording 1 1/2 sacks, recovering a fumble and returning an interception 33 yards for a touchdown. “It gets some of those people off our back that are trying to criticize us about not playing anybody. This is an NFL schedule. You’ve got to play every week or you’re going to get beat.”

The Broncos could be in for a painful slide. They’re down to their third quarterback, Danny Kanell, who entered late in the third quarter when Steve Beuerlein -- starting in place of Jake Plummer (broken foot) -- suffered a gruesome, L-shaped break of the pinkie finger on his throwing hand.

Beuerlein went to the locker room to have his hand bandaged and returned in time to cheer on Kanell, who directed a field-goal and touchdown drive in the fourth quarter to turn a laugher into a respectable game.

The Broncos trailed by eight with 3 minutes 24 seconds remaining and marched into Viking territory. But the threat ended when Johnstone deflected a fourth-down pass at the line of scrimmage with 32 seconds to play.


The Vikings had five sacks and intercepted three Beuerlein passes. Safety Brian Russell had one of the interceptions, pushing his league-leading total to six and tying a club record by picking off a pass in a sixth consecutive game.

The game marked the return of Minnesota quarterback Daunte Culpepper, who suffered four fractured vertebrae against Detroit in the second game of the season. He rolled up to the Metrodome in his red Ferrari convertible, then rolled left and right in the Viking backfield, buying the time he needed to complete 19 of 26 passes for 277 yards and two touchdowns.

Both those scores were on broken plays. The first came in the opening quarter when Culpepper scrambled to his right and heaved a long pass to Kelly Campbell, who made the catch and stumbled down at the 12. There were no defenders close, though, so Campbell was able to pop back to his feet, juke two Denver players and scoot into the end zone for a 47-yard touchdown play.

Then, there was the Moss play. He made that catch with his back to the end zone and :01 showing on the clock. Denver’s Nick Ferguson and Sam Brandon appeared to have him wrapped up, but Moss tossed the lateral over his shoulder as he was falling backward.


“That was the type of play you don’t want to see happen,” Ferguson said. “He caught the pass, made a heck of a toss, pitch, whatever you want to call it. I still don’t know if it was a designed play or not. If it wasn’t a designed play, it was still incredible on his part to see a teammate coming around.”

No-look passes are nothing new for Moss, twice voted West Virginia’s high school basketball player of the year. After the game, he showered and pulled on a silver-and-black Michael Jordan jersey. He smiled when recounting what happened at the team walk-through practice a day earlier.

He had caught a pass and tried to pitch to a teammate but the ball wound up on the ground, where it was scooped up by cornerback Denard Walker. Center Matt Birk wasn’t impressed.

“Way to go,” Birk said. “You just lost the game for us.”


This time, practice made perfect.