MINNEAPOLIS – Minnesota Vikings defenders have long held starring roles in highlight reels for the “Greatest Show on Turf.”

The revamped unit flipped the script, delivering yet another dominant performance that amazingly has the Vikings back in contention for the NFC North title.

The Vikings’ defense forced six turnovers and held Steven Jackson to 67 yards rushing in their sixth straight victory, 27-13 over St. Louis.

With the Bears (9-4) losing at Pittsburgh, the Vikings (8-5) pulled within one game of the division lead in a season that appeared lost after a 2-5 start.

For a team that has given up an average of 47 points and 456 yards in three straight losses to the Rams, the game also served as a statement that this Minnesota defense is no longer the turnstile it once was.

Brian Williams led the way with two interceptions as the Vikings confused and battered rookie quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who was 26-of-44 for 235 yards and five interceptions for the fading Rams (5-8).

With Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce and Jackson, the Rams still have the principle elements of a wide-open offense that has piled up the yards and points in recent years, especially against the Vikings.

Behind quarterbacks Kurt Warner and Marc Bulger, the Rams scored 137 points in victories in 2003 and 2000 and an NFC divisional playoff win after the 1999 season.

Bulger (shoulder) has missed the last three games and Fitzpatrick clearly is not in that class. He made several poor decisions, including throwing a ball right to Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield deep in Rams territory with less than 2 minutes to play in the first half.

That set up Paul Edinger’s second field goal and gave the Vikings a 13-6 halftime lead.

Koren Robinson, Michael Bennett and Ciatrick Fason all scored touchdowns rushing for the Vikings, who have been conservative and efficient during their turnaround, all with Brad Johnson starting for the injured Daunte Culpepper at quarterback.

Johnson was 16-for-25 for 146 yards, once again avoiding the costly mistakes that so plagued Culpepper early in the season.

Fitzpatrick tied the game at 13 with a 14-yard TD run early in the third quarter, but the Vikings’ defense shut out the Rams the rest of the way and is allowing just 15.5 points a game during the winning streak.

The Rams crumbled under the pressure, making mistake after mistake to lose for the fourth time in five games.

In the third quarter, Bruce stumbled out of his break, and Fitzpatrick’s pass went right into the arms of Williams, who returned it to the Rams 21 to setup Fason’s 1-yard plunge and a 27-13 lead.

Fitzpatrick fumbled the snap on third-and-3 from the Vikings 37 on the ensuing possession, and Rex Tucker had a false start as the Rams lined up to go for it on fourth-and-6, forcing a punt.

Kevin Curtis then dropped a pass in the end zone with 3 minutes to go that would have pulled the Rams within a touchdown.

Bruce had five catches for 66 yards to move past Hall of Famer Charlie Joiner for 10th place in NFL history with 12,181 yards. He also caught his 800th career pass in the game.

Holt had 10 catches for 95 yards.

AP-ES-12-11-05 1633EST


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