MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Though it was a little overshadowed by Daunte Culpepper's struggles and the Minnesota Vikings' continued defensive problems, Michael Bennett is quickly becoming a really good running back.
He had his third straight 100-yard game in Sunday's 27-20 loss to the New York Giants.
"I am a lot stronger," said Bennett, who rushed 15 times for a career-high 167 yards and a 78-yard score that gave the Vikings a short-lived fourth-quarter lead.
"I'm a lot smarter than I was last year, in reading coverages and knowing where my holes are," Bennett said. "It was a matter of playing with confidence.
Bennett provided the game's most exciting play, a 78-yard burst up the middle with 8:36 to play that put Minnesota up 20-19.
"Each and every week, you can see that he is gaining confidence and running hard, and getting tougher," Vikings coach Mike Tice said. "He made some tough yards in there, and he is going to be everything that we thought he was when we drafted him."
Bennett, the Vikings' first-round pick in 2001 out of Wisconsin, showed flashes of success in his rookie year -- like his 80-yard touchdown reception against Pittsburgh on Dec. 2. Having started only one year in college, though, he struggled in pass protection and reading his blockers -- winding up with only two 100-yard games.
Though backup Moe Williams has nine rushing touchdowns, Bennett has 723 yards rushing on 132 carries through nine games.
RING OF HONOR: Defensive end Carl Eller, one of the famed four linemen known as the Purple People Eaters in the 1960s and 1970s, was added to the Vikings' Ring of Honor on Sunday.
Eller, who played for the University of Minnesota and spent 1964-78 with the Vikings, is the team's all-time leader in sacks with 130. He was a five-time All-Pro.
Owner Red McCombs pushed the concept shortly after buying the team in 1998.
Other members of the Ring of Honor include quarterback Fran Tarkenton, defensive tackle Alan Page, defensive end Jim Marshall, center Mick Tingelhoff, offensive tackle Korey Stringer, general manager Jim Finks, coach Bud Grant, trainer Fred Zamberletti, safety Paul Krause and offensive tackle Ron Yary. Each member has a banner displaying their name, number and face along the facade of the Metrodome's upper deck.
The jerseys of Tarkenton (No. 10), Page (88), Marshall (70), Stringer (77) and Tingelhoff (53) are retired.
DIXON STEPS UP: Giants WR Tim Carter tore his Achilles' tendon and is out for the year, joining fellow receiver Ike Hilliard on the shelf.
So Ron Dixon was left to complement No. 1 wideout Amani Toomer, and Dixon caught four passes for 107 yards.
"I've always thought of him as a really good receiver who could help us out," Toomer said. "But when you're only out there for three or four plays, you don't really have a margin for error."
EXTRA POINTS: To make room on the roster for rookie Bryant McKinnie, the Vikings had to cut tackle Jon Carman. ... Willie Offord returned to his starting spot at strong safety, replacing Brian Russell, and led the Vikings with eight tackles. ... Minnesota Sen.-elect Norm Coleman was in attendance. ... Chris Hovan, whose status was questionable with back spasms, had the Vikings' only sack. The front of Hovan's jersey was badly ripped on a play in the second quarter. Standing on the sideline while trainers repaired it, a fan wearing Hovan's No. 99 in the stands motioned to him, offering to lend it. ... Dayne's previous longest run this season was 18 yards. ... Kick returner/wide receiver Cedric James sprained his right ankle in the fourth quarter and didn't return. ... The teams totaled 19 penalties, for 168 yards. On third-down conversions, the Giants and Vikings combined to go 1-for-20.
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