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McCown tosses 28-yarder to Poole

12/29/2003

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) -- 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," 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 statswise, but we came out with
the victory, so we was the best receiving corps out there."

Referees reviewed the play to see if 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 4 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 2-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 2-point conversion.

But Damien Anderson recovered the onside 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 save the victory for Minnesota.

Not quite.

"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 Cardinals (4-12) snapped a seven-game losing streak in what
might have been Dave McGinnis' final game as coach. They were 4-4
at home, including a victory over Green Bay. Poole gave the ball he
caught to McGinnis afterward.

"This is why I'm in this profession," McGinnis said, "to get
a group of men to believe and pull together for something like
this. To feel what we felt today when Nate Poole caught that ball
in the end zone -- that's what it's about."

A majority of the fans in Sun Devil Stadium were purple-clad
Vikings boosters, and they were stunned by the last play. Minnesota
players collapsed on their backs in disbelief.

Meanwhile, Brett Favre and the Packers celebrated with their
fans at Lambeau Field when they learned of Arizona's improbable
victory during the 2-minute warning of Green Bay's 31-3 win over
Denver.

It was a tough game throughout for the Vikings. Trailing 6-0 at
halftime, Minnesota brought the NFL's top-rated offense to life
with a pair of touchdowns for a 17-6 lead.

Culpepper was 4-for-4 for 45 yards on the go-ahead touchdown
drive in the third quarter, then threw 7 yards to Moss for the
second score to make it 14-6 with 8:54 to play.

Williams deflected McCown's pass, then intercepted it to set up
Aaron Elling's 46-yard field goal that bounced off the left upright
to put Minnesota up 17-6 with 6:48 remaining.

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

Minnesota took the lead 7-6 by going 67 yards in 11 plays. Moe
Williams scored untouched from 1 yard.

Arizona had a goal-line stand, followed by a 94-yard drive in
the first half. The Cardinals had two potentially disastrous
fumbles, but recovered both.

Minnesota had an interception by Brian Williams nullified by a
hands-to-the-face penalty against Ken Irvin, and Elling missed a
44-yard field goal.

Game notes
The victory cost Arizona the No. 1 pick in next season's
draft. The Cardinals will pick third. ... Arizona rookie Anquan
Boldin caught five passes to tie the franchise single season
receiving record of 101 set by Larry Centers in 1995. ... The crowd
of 52,734 was the Cardinals' second largest at home this season.
... Moss had three catches in Minnesota's opening drive, then two
the rest of the game. ... The Vikings held Arizona to minus-17
yards in the third quarter.