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Minnesota 31, Arizona 27

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Losing starting quarterback Jeff Blake on the
first play wasn't a total loss for the Arizona Cardinals.

Led by third-string quarterback Preston Parsons, the Cardinals
beat the Minnesota Vikings 31-27 on Thursday night to give the team
its first 4-0 preseason in 12 years.

Parsons ran for two touchdowns and threw for another. He went
13-for-16 for 156 yards, and running back Damien Anderson had five
carries for 119 yards, including runs of 69 and 32.

"I'm extremely proud of this football team," Arizona coach
Dave McGinnis said.

The game was played despite the Cardinals' request that it be
postponed because of poor turf conditions.

Workers were on the Metrodome field before the game fixing at
least three gaps between sections of the turf around the south end
zone, which sits over the infield when the stadium is used for
baseball.

McGinnis and team executive Mike Bidwill inspected the field
about three hours before kickoff.

"There were seams that were too wide. That field was not in
playable condition when we were out there," McGinnis said.

The game went on as scheduled after the quick repairs.

Emmitt Smith, who had only four carries in the preseason, had
been expected to get a few carries on Thursday, but the Cardinals
held him out. Smith said the plan all along was for him to not play
and let the young backs get some work.

"Tonight shows a lot," Smith said. "This is a young team full
of depth. We've got a nice rotation in a lot of places."

The Cardinals (4-0) lost Blake to a concussion when Vikings
tackle Chris Hovan sacked him on the game's first offensive play --
the sack was negated by a penalty on Vikings cornerback Denard
Walker.

There was no immediate word on whether Blake would miss any work
with the Cardinals, who open the regular season Sept. 7 at Detroit.

"I don't have an injury reports yet," McGinnis said.

Josh McCown took over and was also harassed by the Vikings'
improved pass rush.

"We rushed like a bunch of wild animals tonight," Hovan said.
"That's the way we've got to play every game."

Minnesota sacked McCown three times and the Vikings offense
looked sharp. Backup quarterback Gus Frerotte found tight end Sean
Berton for a 4-yard TD in the third quarter to put the Vikings
(1-3) up 20-10.

But Parsons answered with an 11-yard TD run up the middle after
eluding defenders. Then he found Bryant Johnson for a 20-yard
reception late in the third to put the Cardinals ahead 24-20. After
fighting off cornerback Horace Willis, a diving Johnson bobbled the
pass at the goal line, but managed to come down with the ball in
his arms.

The Vikings regained the lead on Larry Ned's 1-yard TD run to
put Minnesota ahead 27-24.

But Parsons responded again, leading a 72-yard drive and running
for a 1-yard score to put Arizona ahead to stay with 7:35 left in
the game.

Daunte Culpepper threw for 47 yards and a touchdown. Culpepper
finished the preseason with no turnovers after leading the NFL with
32 last year. Randy Moss caught two passes for 20 yards.

Vikings coach Mike Tice said he was pleased with the play of his
quarterbacks, but that Minnesota's reserves played tentative
overall.

"I hate to use the word scared, so I'll use the word concerned.
Concerned about making mistakes. You can't play that way in the
National Football League," Tice said.

Culpepper put the Vikings up 10-3 in the second quarter with a
27-yard touchdown pass to rookie Nate Burleson. Cardinals rookie
cornerback Nijrell Eason hurt his left knee on the play after
Burleson made the catch and eluded him. Eason fell to the ground
and Burleson, a third-round draft pick who has surprisingly
cemented himself into the roster, ran untouched into the end zone
for his second touchdown of the preseason.

Anderson had a nifty 69-yard touchdown run in the second
quarter. Anderson broke through the line and into the open field,
easily outrunning the defensive backs to the end zone to make it
10-all.

Anderson is listed the fourth running back on the Cardinals
depth chart, but he led the team in rushing during the preseason.

Play was stopped for several minutes in the second quarter after
Cardinals reserve strong safety Justin Lucas suffered a slightly
sprained neck and a concussion while trying to make a tackle. Lucas
appeared to get hit by another teammate on the play.

Lucas, who was moving his legs as he lay on the ground, was
carted off the field on a stretcher after a lengthy delay. X-rays
on Lucas' neck were negative and McGinnis said he expected him to
be OK.

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Andres Ybarra can be reached at aybarra(at)ap.org

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