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Trickery trips up Vikings

Randy Moss had an excused absence this time.

Minnesota's star receiver was mistakenly pulled off the field for a fake field goal, and the Vikings misfired when it counted most yesterday, squandering their chance to advance to the NFC Championship game with a 27-14 loss in Philadelphia.

Trailing, 21-7, Minnesota faced fourth and goal at the 3-yard line with less than five minutes remaining in the first half. As the offense awaited word, several players motioned to coach Mike Tice to go for it.

The kicking team ran out, though. Moss -- who caught flak two weeks ago for leaving the field in frustration as the Vikings lined up for a desperation onside kick in Washington -- jogged toward the sideline perpendicular to the goal line. He stopped just before going out of bounds, however, and was ready to line up as an eligible receiver without anyone covering him.

But backup center Cory Withrow was on the field, unaware of plans for the fake, and coaches and teammates had to yell for Moss to come off to avoid a penalty for too many men on the field.

"I didn't hear the call," Withrow said.

Holder Gus Frerotte was forced to throw the ball out of the end zone, and the Eagles took over on downs.

"We'd love to have a chance to do it again," Frerotte said. "They probably didn't even know it was coming."

Rams seek answers The across-the-board spanking St. Louis absorbed Saturday night exposed so many problems that coach Mike Martz might not know where to start after a dysfunctional season. "We've come a long ways and yet there's a long ways to go," Martz said. "When we started the season we thought we could develop into a pretty good team." In the 47-17 loss to the Falcons, the Rams were undone by special teams and a defense that recently showed major signs of progress. "We made them look like they were Indianapolis," defensive end Bryce Fisher said. Now, the Rams exit with more questions about the scheme of new defensive coordinator Larry Marmie. Martz and Marmie are longtime friends. "Next year, it'll be a new year," quarterback Marc Bulger said. "There will be a lot of new guys."

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