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Moss catches two of Culpepper's five TD passes

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Vinny Testaverde did his best to match
Minnesota's rising star, Daunte Culpepper.

But even Testaverde's great start wasn't enough as the Dallas
Cowboys lost to the Vikings 35-17 on Sunday.

The 40-year-old Testaverde was 29-for-50 for 355 yards, one
touchdown and no interceptions. His favorite target, Keyshawn
Johnson, caught nine balls for 111 yards in his first game with the
Cowboys.

Dallas coach Bill Parcells blamed the loss on poor defense.

"I'm very disappointed in our defense. I think we played
poorly," he said. "We got a lot of work to do. The only good
thing is that you can only lose a game once."

Culpepper, meanwhile, played like a quarterback entering his
prime. He changed plays at the line, made all the right throws and
protected the ball like a wise old pro. He threw a career-high five
touchdown passes, two to Randy Moss.

"He's just got to drive the car," coach Mike Tice said, "and
it's a pretty nice car he's driving."

The Vikings are hoping the 27-year-old Culpepper's inconsistent
days of interceptions and fumbles are behind him.

Against a depleted Dallas defense, he was both sensational and
efficient -- going 17-for-23 for 242 yards with no turnovers and
completing passes to nine different receivers.

"I don't feel I have to make a play all the time with all these
guys around me," Culpepper said.

It was Johnson's first regular season appearance since last Nov.
16, before he was permanently benched in a conflict with Tampa Bay
coach Jon Gruden.

"We play 15 more games," Johnson said. "That's as positive as
I can be. I'm not into losing."

Darren Woodson's back injury left Dallas with one proven player
in the secondary, Terence Newman, to defend Culpepper, Moss and the
rest of Minnesota's offense that led the league in total yards last
year.

"It's very good to see the whole offense come around," Moss
said. "Not just Daunte."

Culpepper rushed six times for 25 yards and three first downs,
throwing TDs to Onterrio Smith, Marcus Robinson and Kelly Campbell.

"He's playing at a level that no one can match right now,"
said Smith, who rushed for 76 yards while starter Michael Bennett
rested his sprained knee.

Tice estimated that Culpepper audibled between eight and 10
times, and two of the last-second changes went for touchdowns.

On third-and-1 in the second quarter, Culpepper recognized a
blitz, switched the play and threw a soft pass over the line to
Smith -- who snuck out of the backfield and raced untouched for a
63-yard score to put Minnesota up 7-3.

"Culpepper's a good quarterback," Parcells said. "We did not
get close to him, and he converted a bunch of third downs. They're
obviously a lot better than we are right now."

Parcells' teams rarely quit, and the Cowboys were within four
until Culpepper found Moss in the corner of the end zone on a
1-yard rollout midway through the third quarter to make it 28-17.

Moss had only 27 yards on four catches, but he made a big impact
as usual. He threw a reverse pass for 37 yards to Robinson, made
some key blocks downfield and drew two pass interference penalties.
The first one, an end-zone call on Tony Dixon, set up Moss' first
score to make it 21-10 early in the third.

"We have the weapons," Moss said. "When a team wants to sit
back there and double-team me and play a soft zone ... we still
don't miss a beat."

Dixon explained the loss this way: "We really just didn't do
well stopping the run."

The Cowboys couldn't do anything on the ground. Veteran Eddie
George looked awfully slow and finished with 25 yards on eight
rushes -- all in the first half.

"I understand what my role is," George said. "It's a long
season, and hopefully I'll get some opportunities next week."

The Cowboys face the Cleveland Browns next week. Cleveland
pushed Baltimore around for three hours in a 20-3 victory over the
Ravens on Sunday. Former Cowboys coach Dave Campo is the defensive
coordinator at Cleveland.

Rookie Julius Jones might give the Cowboys a lift, but he was
inactive with bruised ribs. Richie Anderson, another of Parcells'
guys from his days with the New York Jets, had 10 yards on six
carries and lost a fumble at the Minnesota 19 with 9:35 to play and
the Vikings leading by 11.

"We just made some bad plays. They made some big plays and we
didn't. Things just happened and things snowballed. It's part of
the game," Cowboys linebacker Dat Nguyen said. "It's one of those
deals where you have to go back to the drawing board and do better.
Hopefully we'll do better next week. We just gotta move on and
learn from it."

ReShard Lee, a reserve from Middle Tennessee State appearing in
his first NFL regular-season game, was almost solely responsible
for Dallas' second touchdown. He returned a kickoff 62 yards and
ran four times for 31 yards, the last a 7-yard rumble off left
guard to cut Minnesota's lead to 21-17 early in the third quarter.

That was as close as the Cowboys came, though, as the Vikings
tried to get over their gut-wrenching, last-second loss to Arizona
that closed the 2003 season and kept them out of the playoffs.

"It was definitely some motivation," Culpepper said. "We were
able to get that taste out of our mouth."

Game notes
Minnesota CB Ken Irvin, who was supposed to start, injured
his Achilles' tendon while backpedaling during warmups and is
probably done for the season. ... Dallas lost starting guard Andre
Gurode to a sprained knee in the third quarter. ... Vikings RB Moe
Williams left in the fourth with a sprained ankle.

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