Vikings 34, Giants 17

If the last two weeks are any indication, watch out for the Minnesota Vikings in the playoffs.

The Vikings, one of the preseason Super Bowl favorites, made the playoffs for the seventh time in eight seasons under Dennis Green by unleashing a big-play offense to rout the Giants 34-17 on Sunday.

``We're jelling,'' said halfback Robert Smith, who rushed for 146 yards, including a late 70-yard TD run to help the Vikings (9-7) post their second straight win in a game they had to have.

``When guys were saying we were out of it at 2-4, we were the only people who believed. And when everybody was laughing when Denny said he thought we had a chance for a world championship, I wonder how many of those people are laughing now? This team is starting to show the type of play we need to be successful in the playoffs.''

The loss does not eliminate the Giants (7-8) from the playoff picture, but they will need a lot of help to stay alive, including a win over Dallas in the season finale.

``I'm shocked that we didn't play well,'' Giants safety Sam Garnes said. ``The way we played shocked me. It was pretty sorry. This was a big game, a must game and we just didn't come through.''

The Vikings beat the Giants in every phase, not just with their vaunted offense. The defense set up a touchdown and the special teams scored one.

But it was Minnesota's offense which dominated.

Jeff George's passing to Randy Moss and Cris Carter set up two short touchdown runs by Leroy Hoard to put Minnesota ahead in the first half. Then the Vikings made all the key plays in the second half.

An interception by Anthony Bass set up a 27-yard TD pass from Moss to Carter. Moe Williams also scored on an 85-yard kickoff return on the opening play of the fourth quarter and Smith scored on a 70-yard run. The last two TDs came seconds after the Giants scored.

``We are playing well, things are happening for us now,'' Vikings safety Robert Griffith said. ``We played well last week, too. It's all about the team that gets hot at the end, and we're in the playoffs and we're getting hot.''

The key for the Vikings was Carter, who made a token appearance in last week's 24-20 win over Green Bay because of a sprained ankle. While not at full speed, he had enough to dominate the Giants' injury-riddled secondary, making five catches for 131 yards, including the reception of Moss' pass that gave Minnesota a 21-6 lead.

``You really can't say enough about Cris Carter,'' Green said. ``The guy came back after two weeks with a high ankle sprain. Nobody else in the league could do that.''

Cary Blanchard kicked field goal of 24, 43 and 42 yards. Kerry Collins (31-of-51 for 297 yards) threw a 1-yard TD pass to Pete Mitchell and ran for a 2-point conversion for New York, which has lost its first two December games under Jim Fassel the past two weeks.

The Vikings used a lot of two tight-end formations to slow down the Giants' pass rush. George took advantage with big plays to Carter and Moss to set up Hoard's short touchdown runs.

After Blanchard's 24-yard field goal finished a 15-play, 65-yard opening drive, the Vikings took the lead with a six-play, 83-yard drive. George sandwiched passes of 37 and 17 yards around a 25-yarder to Moss, setting up a 3-yard unmolested run up the middle by Hoard.

Blanchard cut the lead to 7-6 on the next series, but the Vikings went 67 yards on their last possession of the half to take a 14-6 lead.

Passes of 19 yards to tight end Andrew Glover, 16 to Carter and runs 15 and 14 yards by Smith set up Hoard's 1-yard TD run.

The Vikings owned the second half. Once Pittsburgh finished off Carolina, their playoff berth was secure.

``I think we had more fire than they did today,'' tackle Todd Steussie said. ``I think we wanted it a little more. Maybe it had something to do with how we were denied last year, and we realize we have another opportunity if we take advantage of it again.''

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