Even after return, doubt surrounds Culpepper
PITTSBURGH -- Daunte Culpepper's knee was never the issue.
Costly interceptions were the issue.
Dumb decisions were the issue.
A tendency to unravel quickly and at inopportune times was the issue.
Pretty much everything Culpepper did during the fourth quarter of Miami's 28-17 loss to Pittsburgh on the NFL's opening night was the issue.
If you thought the reason Culpepper is no longer in Minnesota had to do with shredded knee ligaments, then watching Culpepper on Thursday night was like putting ammonia under your nose.
Thursday night was why a stoic, aging Brad Johnson is more attractive to the Vikings than a gregarious, more physically gifted Culpepper.
As far as debuts go, this one was somewhere between complete disappointment and total stinker.
Obviously, labeling the Dolphins Super Bowl sleepers was not well-deserved, and right about now, Miami is looking like the NFL version of Notre Dame -- overrated because of a good coach and a quarterback.
Branding Culpepper the South Florida Comeback Kid now seems extremely premature.
You can rationalize it by saying this is the first game and there are 15 more to go, but this feels ultimately more devastating because the Dolphins were supposed to get it right with Culpepper.
He is supposed to be better than any of the dregs the Dolphins trotted out at quarterback after Dan Marino -- Frerotte, Fiedler and Feeley.
You had better hope Culpepper isn't like the ex-girlfriend you try to make things work with again -- only to find out in the most crushing way the reasons you disliked her are still there.
With Culpepper, the biggest thing to dislike is the way he can destroy everything so quickly and with the game on the line.
To see Culpepper completely fall apart of consecutive drives was inexcusable.
Culpepper threw interceptions on consecutive possessions, with the knockout blow coming from Joey Porter, who returned one Culpepper ball 42 yards to the end zone with 2 minutes, 59 seconds left.
Those are the plays that make you wonder whether Culpepper is a winner. His talent never has been a question. His mental makeup has.
Thursday night wreaked of the same inconsistency that has plagued Culpepper in the post-Randy Moss portion of his career.
It is never a good thing when Charlie Batch, a backup that has started two games in four seasons in Pittsburgh, plays smarter and better than Culpepper, who is supposed to be a franchise quarterback.
Batch threw three touchdown passes to Culpepper's zero. Certainly it helped Batch tremendously that his running back, Willie Parker, rushed for 115 yards and Ronnie Brown gained a mere 30.
But Culpepper wasn't a factor, and he was brought to Miami expressly for that purpose. It doesn't mean he's doomed to an existence of failure as a Dolphin, but it does mean that all the things that bother you about Culpepper aren't just going to go away.
Jemele Hill can be reached at [email protected]