MINNEAPOLIS (Dec. 11, 2005) -- Brad Johnson isn't surprised by anything the Minnesota Vikings ' defense does anymore.
"Our defense is playing unbelievable and that's what's expected of those guys," Johnson said following a 27-13 victory over the St. Louis Rams.
It's been a long, long time since such high expectations have been bestowed upon this defense, which has amazingly thrust the Vikings back into contention for the NFC North title.
"It is hard not to look ahead," receiver Koren Robinson said. "You just have to stay focused and understand that if we don't handle our business, regardless of what the Bears do, we're going to miss the playoffs."
Even mentioning that word would have been ludicrous six weeks ago, when the Vikings appeared to be spiraling out of control with myriad mistakes on the field and an embarrassing boat party scandal off it.
That was before the defense, with five new starters, started coming together. Now that it has, the wins just keep on coming.
"I think we're jelling," said cornerback Brian Williams. "Everybody's just putting it together and figuring out what our defense is all about."
"It was a disappointing game," Fitzpatrick said. "I made some mistakes and it seemed like every time I made a mistake, they capitalized on it."
Behind quarterbacks Kurt Warner and Marc Bulger, the Rams scored 137 points in routes in 2003 and 2000 and an NFC divisional playoff win after the 1999 season.
Johnson was 16-for-25 for 146 yards, once again avoiding the costly mistakes that so plagued Culpepper early in the season.
The Rams crumbled under the pressure, making mistake after mistake to lose for the fourth time in five games.
In the third quarter, Isaac 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.
Kevin Curtis also 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.
Rex Tucker started in place of the injured Alex Barron (thumb) at RT for the Rams.
Holt passed Henry Ellard for second in team history with 602 catches.
Robinson's score was the just the fourth rushing TD by a receiver in franchise history and the first since Anthony Carter ran for one against Tampa Bay on Nov. 8, 1992.
Vikings LB Keith Newman left in the second quarter with a sprained right knee and did not return.