Culpepper Article from NFL.com
Giant trouble won't dent Culpepper's confidence
By Tom Pelissero
Special to NFL.com
MINNEAPOLIS (Nov. 2, 2004) -- Daunte Culpepper juked out of the pocket, eluded a defender and scrambled to his left.
Spotting tight end Jermaine Wiggins open over the middle, Culpepper slowed, squared his shoulders and cocked his arm to pass.
It was a throw the Vikings quarterback had executed to perfection a dozen times during his record pace to start this season. But in the first quarter of last week's 34-13 loss to the Giants, Culpepper threw a split-second late and a step behind Wiggins, serving up an easy interception for New York safety Gibril Wilson.
Culpepper finished with three turnovers -- the Giants turned them into 17 points -- in the worst performance of his otherwise stellar season.
The quarterback's mistakes notwithstanding, Minnesota's embarrassing home setback could be chalked up to many factors.
Blame it on All-Pro receiver Randy Moss' strained hamstring, which limited him to decoy duty. Blame it on rookie running back Mewelde Moore's off day. Blame it on a slow start, the Giants' game plan or the end of daylight-saving time.
Culpepper blamed himself.
"I'm not pointing the finger at anybody," Culpepper said. "I'll point my finger at myself more than anything."
Self-responsibility is nothing new for Culpepper. It's been his greatest virtue and his worst fault in his six-year career, endearing him to coaches and teammates while often crushing his own confidence.
That said, little fault can be found in Culpepper's play this season. Even after last week's debacle, Culpepper boasts an NFC-best 114.2 passer rating, has completed 70.9 percent of his passes and has thrown 20 touchdowns to just five interceptions.
Oh, and the Vikings lead the NFC North at 5-2.
Culpepper's success can be credited largely to a more cautious offensive approach. By taking fewer chances downfield, he's minimized the type of turnovers that haunted him early in his career.
"He would always try to make up for a previous error right away with a big play, and then he would compound it with another forced error," offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. "And I think defenses knew, 'Culpepper's going to try to stretch the field; he just had an error.'
"He's shown much more patience and self-restraint, not letting his competitive nature take over, letting the offense work and letting the big plays come to him."
Under Linehan's conservative tutelage, Culpepper recovered from a turnover-filled 2002 campaign to throw 25 touchdowns with just 11 interceptions last season, earning his second Pro Bowl start.
By being more cautious, Daunte Culpepper is having his best season as a pro. His best passes, however, might have been the ones he simply threw out of bounds. "He doesn't look at it as a failure anymore," Linehan said. "We've probably thrown five touchdown passes this year where on second down, the play before, he had the opportunity to try to make a play that wasn't there and didn't force it."
"It's not about trying to making a great play all the time," Culpepper said. "If there is a play to be made, it'll happen, as long as you have the focus and the mindset to let it happen."
The departure of ardent veteran Cris Carter after the 2001 season left Culpepper without a legitimate No. 2 receiver and saddled the young quarterback with an unsolicited share of the Vikings' leadership burden.
Culpepper threw 23 interceptions and fumbled 21 times as Minnesota spiraled to its second straight losing season in 2002.
Admittedly, Culpepper was crushed by his role in the team's struggles. But Vikings brass showed remarkable faith in their embattled signal-caller by signing Culpepper to a 10-year, $102 million extension in May 2003.
Now, Culpepper wants nothing more than to vindicate the organization's faith. "I look at that (2002) season," Culpepper said, "and I just don't want it to go back that way."
With maturation, Culpepper has become the leader that Carter's ego prevented him from being -- unselfish, humble and accountable.
Teammates regularly visit Culpepper's suburban Minneapolis home for dinner, pickup basketball games or pay-per-view boxing matches. The host uses the get-togethers to build rapport and encourage young players to adopt a more professional attitude on and off the field.
"He does a great job of including everybody," wide receiver Nate Burleson said. "When we step on the field, it's almost like you're playing next to your brother instead of a stranger."
"It's such a family that we regroup and don't point fingers," added wide receiver Marcus Robinson. "It's just 'C'mon, let's get the next one.' "
And the family is growing.
Through seven games, Culpepper has completed passes to 14 different players. Seven -- Burleson, Moore, Moss, Robinson, Wiggins, Onterrio Smith and Kelly Campbell -- have at least 200 yards receiving.
Critics point out that Culpepper still hasn't led a memorable fourth-quarter comeback in his four-plus seasons as a starter. His game-winning touchdown throw in overtime at Houston last month partly quashed that argument. Inconsistency remains a more valid critique, but every player, regardless of position, has bad days.
With Moss below full speed for the next month, Culpepper must find a way to take advantage of his other weapons -- something he failed to do in the loss to the Giants. That performance might have shaken a younger Culpepper's confidence; after all, a midseason loss to the same team a year ago sent the Vikings into a four-game losing skid.
But an older, wiser Culpepper has every intention to return Minnesota to the win column Monday night at Indianapolis.
"The big picture is, we're 5-2," Culpepper said. "We have to show some character this week and bounce back."
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