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Archive for Thursday, October 20, 2005

Fortunes have changed for Vikings’ Culpepper

QB’s rating among lowest in league

October 20, 2005

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— It wasn't long ago that Daunte Culpepper could do no wrong. He threw touchdowns at will, ran over defenders and directed one of the most prolific offenses in the NFL.

But after putting up numbers only Peyton Manning could exceed in 2004, Culpepper finds himself struggling to stay ahead of Joey Harrington, J.P. Losman and rookie Kyle Orton at the bottom of the NFL quarterback ratings in 2005.

Through the first five games last season, Culpepper had thrown for 1,766 yards, 18 touchdowns and three interceptions for the 4-1 Vikings.

This season, Culpepper has thrown for 1,256 yards, four touchdowns and an NFL-high 12 interceptions in the Vikings' 1-4 start. His 62.8 rating is fourth worst in the NFL, just ahead of the struggling trio of Orton, Losman and Harrington.

Ever the optimist, Culpepper steadfastly maintains he's the same quarterback that set a record last season for combined yards rushing and passing.

"I'm still the same me," he said Wednesday. "I just need to do what I need to do for us to win. I need to minimize mistakes. A lot of times, stuff that has happened to me in this offense happens. We have got to bounce back and play winning football."

It's more than just statistics. Playing behind a leaky offensive line and with no running game and no Randy Moss to support him, Culpepper has looked lost at times. He struggles to find the open receiver, has happy feet in the pocket and has been hesitant to scramble on a sore right knee.

Nevertheless, the coaches have refused to bench him for backup Brad Johnson.

"To the chagrin of probably a few (fans), that really hasn't been discussed," offensive coordinator Steve Loney said.

Culpepper's sterling 2004 season - he completed 69 percent of his passes for 4,717 yards, 39 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions - gave the Vikings the confidence that they could trade the enigmatic Moss to Oakland without missing a beat.

Moss' ability to stretch the field and demand double- and triple-teams certainly has been sorely missed this season, but it is one of a number of issues that have led to the Vikings' downfall.

"It's the same Daunte," said No. 1 receiver Nate Burleson, who has only compounded the problems by missing the last three games with a sprained left knee. "We had a lot of adjustments to make at the start of the season with a new coordinator and a new team, really. He had to get used to that."

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