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Throwin’ it Back to ’98: Johnson Toughs Out Broken Thumb vs. Saints 

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This season, the Vikings are commemorating the 20th anniversary of the 1998 team.

Minnesota went 15-1 during the 1998 regular season, in which it set a then-NFL scoring record with 556 points. Randy Moss came on the scene and caught 17 touchdown passes, the most-ever by a rookie. He combined with Cris Carter and Jake Reed to form “Three Deep.”

For each week of the 2018 regular season, we’ll throw it back to 1998 and take a look at each of the Vikings 16 games.

We’ll continue this series with Minnesota’s Week 10 contest against New Orleans, a bounce-back day in more ways than one.

Click here for the first recap in this series (Week 1 vs. Tampa Bay).

Click here for the second recap in this series (Week 2 at St. Louis).

Click here for the third recap in this series (Week 3 vs. Detroit).

Click here for the fourth recap in this series (Week 4 at Chicago).

Click here for the fifth recap in this series (Week 5 at Green Bay).

Click here for the sixth recap in this series (bye week).

Click here for the seventh recap in this series (Week 7 vs. Washington).

Click here for the eighth recap in this series (Week 8 at Detroit).

Click here for the ninth recap in this series (Week 9 at Tampa Bay).

Vikings 31, Saints 24

Weather: None (dome) | Temp: 68 degrees Fahrenheit

Paid Attendance: 63,779 | Time of game: Noon (CT)

NO 0 7 10 7 | 24

MIN 7 10 7 7 | 31

The Vikings returned home after dropping their first loss of the season and started the day against the Saints with a particularly bad omen.

Randall Cunningham, who had been filling in for Brad Johnson since Week 2, suffered a knee injury on the third snap of the game — on a “free play,” no less. After New Orleans committed an encroachment penalty, Cunningham was trying for a big play, but his ankle was grabbed by Jared Tomich, which prompted Cunningham’s knee to lock up. He left the game 0-for-2 passing with a sack.

Johnson replaced Cunningham with aplomb, completing 28 of 38 passes for 316 yards. He threw one touchdown — a 14-yarder to Cris Carter — and two interceptions, including one that was returned 91 yards for a touchdown to tie the game at 24 with 10:10 remaining.

Johnson played through a broken thumb he suffered on the opening play of the third quarter and bounced back to lead Minnesota on an 11-play, 81-yard drive that lasted 6:27 and ended with a 1-yard touchdown by Leroy Hoard.

The drive included a 34-yard pass to Andrew Glover, a 15-yarder to Jake Reed on a third-and-6 and an unconventional but effective left-handed fling to Hoard for a 19-yard gain on a third-and-8.

It was the only reception of the day for Hoard, who rushed for a 4-yard touchdown in the second quarter and a 1-yard score to put the Vikings ahead for good.

Glover led the Vikings with nine receptions and 93 yards, Reed had 90 yards on five receptions and Carter added six catches for 71 yards.

Robert Smith had a 61-yard touchdown in the third quarter and finished with 137 yards on 20 rushes.

The Vikings converted 12 of 18 third downs and didn’t allow the Saints to convert any of seven third downs. Minnesota limited New Orleans to 190 net yards.

Billy Joe Tolliver tried to lead a comeback, and the Saints advanced to the Vikings 48-yard line before a penalty on Willie Roaf and sacks on three consecutive plays put Minnesota in the victory formation for the eighth time in nine games.

Headline: 1 win, 2 losses (Star Tribune | Nov. 9, 1998)

It included the subhead, “Cunningham, Johnson hurt in victory; both QBs will miss next week’s game,” but Cunningham was able to play the following week.

Quotables:

“It had taken [eight] weeks to finally get back in the lineup. If there was a chance I can play, then I’m going to finish out the game.”

– Quarterback Brad Johnson

“It was like something out of the Little Rascals. He kept hitting him and hitting him and hitting him and finally tossed him into the end zone. When you see us break a long run, it’s usually because there’s a wide receiver doing a great job of blocking downfield.”

– Running back Robert Smith on Cris Carter’s job of blocking Saints cornerback Tyronne Drakeford during a 61-yard touchdown run

“We have so many guys who can score from 30 or 40 yards out. Somebody’s got to handle the little ones.”

– Running back Leroy Hoard

Play of the Game:

With the score tied at 24 with 10 minutes remaining, the Vikings got a third-down conversion unlike most. Minnesota moved the chains on third-and-8 from the New Orleans 25-yard line with Johnson’s left-handed pass to Hoard for a gain of 19.

Under duress while standing at the 31, Johnson managed to shovel the ball to Hoard at the 20, and the running back got an additional 14 yards after the catch to set up first-and-goal at the 6. Hoard scored a 1-yard touchdown three plays later.

“It was a big play for us. I was stuck in the pocket, and I was going to try and scramble,” Johnson explained. “But they grabbed my right hand, and I had to improvise and throw the ball left-handed.

“I’ve practiced that a lot, just on individual drills in the summer. It sounds crazy that someone practices it, but you never know. A year ago I ended throwing the ball away, and it turned out to be a great play at a crucial time in the game in Chicago.”

All quotes obtained from Nov. 9, 1998, edition of Star Tribune

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