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ulpepper powers Vikings to 38-31 win over Saints

NEW ORLEANS – No Randy Moss? No problem.

Daunte Culpepper didn’t skip a beat after Moss wassidelined.

The Minnesota quarterback threw five touchdown passes for anNFL-record third time this season, leading the Vikings to a 38-31victory over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday night.

”It’s all about stepping up,” Culpepper said. ”Accepting thechallenge and doing whatever it takes.”

Culpepper, despite pressure from the Saints, completed 26 of 37passes for 425 yards. It was a career high in passing yards forCulpepper, beating his previous record of 396 yards against Oaklandon Nov. 16, 2003.

”In all my time in the NFL, I’ve never seen a quarterback thishot,” said Saints cornerback Ashley Ambrose, a 13-yearveteran.

The Vikings (4-1) had 605 yards of offense and converted eightof 11 third downs.

Culpepper, who also threw two interceptions and was sackedtwice, has completed just over 72 percent of his passes thisseason, throwing for 1,766 yards and 18 TDs.

Rookie running back Mewelde Moore had another big game forMinnesota, rushing for 109 yards and catching seven passes for 78yards.

”I had to stay calm and make sure I was focused,” Moore said.”I had fun out there.”

Moss, who leads the NFL in TDs receiving, injured his hamstringin the second quarter. He had two receptions for 89 yards and atouchdown. It was the 10th consecutive game with a touchdownreception.

”I was a little lonely without my man,” Culpepper said. ”Buthe’s a soldier. He’ll be back.”

Nate Burleson had six receptions for 134 yards forMinnesota.

New Orleans’ Aaron Brooks completed 22 of 38 passes for 249yards and a touchdown. He was intercepted once. Deuce McAllisterran for 78 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries.

A pass-interference call against Ambrose set up the Vikings’first touchdown, giving them a first down on the 1. On the nextplay, Culpepper hit Jermaine Wiggins for the touchdown.

Minnesota got its first interception of the season, preventing aNew Orleans (2-4) touchdown and setting up the Vikings’ secondscore. Culpepper hit Moss in the end zone on a 43-yard play, makingit 14-0 less than a minute into the second quarter.

The Saints recovered a fumbled snap and scored on a 2-yard runby McAllister that made it 14-7.

Marcus Robinson caught a 16-yard touchdown pass to give theVikings a 21-7 lead. Then the Saints put together their best driveof the half, going 73 yards in four plays, with Brooks connectingwith Joe Horn for a 7-yard touchdown.

The Vikings opened the second half with Culpepper throwing a9-yard touchdown pass to Wiggins for a 28-14 lead.

”He’s a great QB,” Saints coach Jim Haslett said. ”We justdidn’t make any plays and he made some fantastic plays.”

On fourth-and-3 on their 28, the Saints lined up in puntformation, then snapped the ball to blocking back Fred McAfee, whoscampered 53 yards to the Minnesota 19. McAllister finished it offwith a 1-yard run, making it 28-21.

A 39-yard field goal by Morten Andersen stretched the Vikings’lead to 10 at 31-21 at the end of the third quarter. John Carneykicked a 45-yarder to pull New Orleans to 31-24 early in the fourthperiod.

Culpepper, who led the NFL with a 126.0 passer rating going intothe game, threw his fifth touchdown pass of the game to Robinson,making it 38-24.

Brooks then scrambled 5 yards for a touchdown to pull the Saintsto 38-31 with 2:51 left. But Minnesota kept the ball the rest ofthe way.

Notes: The Vikings have an NFL-record streak of34 consecutive games with 300 or more yards of total offense …New Orleans DE Charles Grant, tied for the NFL lead with sevensacks, had one sack for 4 yards against Minnesota … The Vikingswere penalized 10 yards on each of their first two kickoff returns- for holding on the opening kickoff and for an illegal block afterthe Saints first touchdown.