MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – Tampa Bay still plays a mean defense, as Minnesota and Daunte Culpepper found out.

Brian Kelly had two interceptions, the last one at his own 6-yard line with 1:45 left that sealed a scrappy, season-opening 24-13 victory for the Buccaneers over the Vikings on Sunday.

Rookie tight end Alex Smith caught two touchdown passes for Tampa Bay, which also forced two fumbles by Culpepper and kept the normally dangerous Minnesota offense sputtering all afternoon – allowing only 26 yards rushing.

Another Bucs rookie, Carnell “Cadillac” Williams, added a 71-yard touchdown run with 1:23 remaining against a revamped Vikings defense that played pretty well until that point.

Coming off a career-best season, Culpepper looked more like a rookie than a three-time Pro Bowl. He threw his third interception to Derrick Brooks, on the final, desperation drive and finished 22-for-33 for 233 yards.

Minnesota’s only came from new free safety Darren Sharper on an 88-yard interception return in the first quarter.

Tight end Jermaine Wiggins had two touchdown receptions called back by penalties in the second half. In the first half, the Vikings had three turnovers and two three-and-outs.

At least Minnesota’s special teams were working: Rookie Chris Kluwe boomed four punts for an average of 54 yards, and new kicker Paul Edinger nailed field goals of 53 and 22 yards.

Trailing 17-13, the Vikings got the ball at their own 10 with 4:11 to go. Using two catches by Nate Burleson and two penalties by the Bucs, they reached the 12-yard line with 1:53 left. After a Tampa Bay timeout, Culpepper found Moe Williams open out of the backfield – but the ball tipped off his hands and into Kelly’s arms.

Brian Griese wasn’t great, either, but he led Tampa Bay on two long touchdown drives in the second quarter to take a 17-7 halftime lead. Griese was 18-for-29 for 213 yards with two TDs and two INTs.

Williams, the Bucs’ fifth overall pick in the draft, had 27 carries for 148 yards.

Frustrated by several seasons of defensive failure, the Vikings spent plenty of money on upgrades for that side of the ball. The new acquisitions proved their worth in the first half: Sharper had a handful of jarring hits in addition to his touchdown return, cornerback Fred Smoot picked off a pass and nose tackle Pat Williams had a sack.

But whether it was the play calling with new offensive coordinator Steve Loney, a nonexistent running game, steady pressure on Culpepper or an uncharacteristically shaky first-half performance by the Pro Bowl quarterback, the Vikings looked as lousy on offense as they had in some time.

Of course Randy Moss was missing, too, after the trade that shipped him to Oakland. And while the core of the Bucs’ defense – Brooks, Simeon Rice, Shelton Quarles and Ronde Barber – are all 30 years or older, it remains one of the league’s best.

Culpepper’s pass to Burleson was off target on the first drive, and Kelly intercepted at the Tampa Bay 7-yard line. Trying to throw a quick out with a one-step drop on the next possession, Culpepper lost his grip and watched Dewayne White return the fumble to the Vikings’ 23. Then, in the second quarter, former Viking Chris Hovan recovered a fumble after Rice’s sack knocked the ball loose.

AP-ES-09-11-05 1632EDT


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