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Throwin' it Back to '98: Vikings Defense Makes Last-Second Stand Against Rams

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

Minnesota went 15-1 during the 1998 regular season, during which the Vikings 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.

Today marks the 20th anniversary of Minnesota’s Week 2 clash against the Rams, who were based in St. Louis at the time. It was a matchup of two high-powered offenses that came down to the final play of the game.

The Vikings moved to 2-0 on the season with a 38-31 win, but it didn’t come without a few gnawed fingernails and added gray hairs.

Vikings 38, Rams 31

Weather: None (Played in a dome)

Paid Attendance: 56,234 | Time of game: Noon (CT)

MIN 14 10 7 7 | 38

STL 0 10 14 7 | 31

It was all or nothing with one play left.

The Vikings led 38-31 with six seconds remaining when the Rams offense held the ball on fourth down at the Vikings 9-yard line.

Rams quarterback Tony Banks took the snap and scanned the field before scampering toward the goal line. Banks was met by a handful of Vikings, including safety Orlando Thomas, and was stopped inches short of the goal line to preserve the thrilling Minnesota win.

If that wasn’t enough drama, the Vikings also lost quarterback Brad Johnson earlier in the game.

Johnson, who threw for 208 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions over three-plus quarters, broke his right ankle early in the fourth quarter while being hit by multiple St. Louis defenders.

Randall Cunningham played the fourth quarter for the Vikings, and threw the game-winning touchdown on a 19-yard pass to wide receiver Cris Carter with just over two minutes left in regulation. Cunningham completed three of six passes for 41 yards and the score in the win.

Minnesota grabbed a 24-10 halftime lead thanks to the legs of running back Robert Smith, who finished the game with 23 carries for a career-high 179 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Smith started the scoring with a 24-yard run early in the fourth quarter before Johnson found tight end Andrew Glover for a 3-yard touchdown.

St. Louis scored a touchdown, and Gary Anderson added a field goal before Smith broke loose for a 74-yard score.

Minnesota’s double-digit lead didn’t last, however, as the Rams scored on the ground and on a 71-yard punt return to even the score.

A late third-quarter touchdown run by Leroy Hoard gave the Vikings the lead entering the fourth quarter, but St. Louis quickly tied it on an 80-yard touchdown pass.

Johnson then got injured, Cunningham entered and the course of the Vikings 1998 season was forever changed.

Despite the offensive firepower, the Vikings tallied four interceptions on the day, including two by Robert Griffith. The safety could have had a third, but dropped a pass on the Rams final drive of the game.

No worries, that only set up the exhilarating finish that moved Minnesota to 2-0.

Headline: “Not a second too soon” (Star Tribune | Sept. 14, 1998)

Quotable

“That’s what I was hoping he didn’t do, go up in the air. I just knew I had to come with all I had and hit him as hard as I could. I mean, he’s [6-foot-4] and he’s trying to lean toward it. I just didn’t want him running over me and getting into the end zone.”

— Thomas, who passed away on Nov. 9, 2014, said to the Star Tribune about his game-saving tackle on Banks

Play of the game

There’s no game-saving tackle to preserve the win without Carter’s go-ahead touchdown with 2:09 left in the fourth quarter.

Minnesota faced third-and-7 from the Rams 19-yard line when St. Louis readied to bring the heat on Cunningham.

With Carter split out to Cunningham’s right, the Rams sent cornerback Todd Lyght on a blitz, leaving safety Keith Lyle on the future Hall of Fame wide receiver.

Cunningham took the snap, lofted a pass to the end zone and got drilled by Lyght.

Carter eased past Lyle, snagging the 93rd touchdown pass of his career to help propel the Vikings to a win.

Carter, who finished with four catches for 60 yards, explained the play to the Star Tribune.

“We had a good idea they would be blitzing. [Offensive Coordinator] Brian Billick sent in a play that would be perfect for the situation. When we came out of the huddle and I saw the coverage, I knew they were coming.”

Click here for the first recap in this series.

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