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Culpepper's phenomenal year not lost on teammates



Published: Fri, January 14, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The QB set many team records this season.

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) -- Daunte Culpepper has been kept out of the spotlight all season.

His spectacular regular season was overshadowed by Peyton Manning and his touchdown record in Indianapolis, then his stellar performance in leading Minnesota to a wild-card playoff victory at Green Bay was lost a bit in the uproar over Randy Moss and his latest antics.

There's nothing, however, unheralded about Culpepper to the Vikings -- who visit Philadelphia on Sunday in a divisional round game.

"I don't think he got lost in the shuffle," center Matt Birk said.

"I think everyone here appreciates what he does and what he means to the team and how great a year he's had. I think, as a player, the No. 1 thing you look for is respect from your teammates, and he definitely has that from every guy here in this locker room.

"With the year Peyton Manning had, Daunte's year gets lost, but it's not lost on any of us."

While Manning set the NFL's single-season mark for touchdowns passes with 49, Culpepper led the NFC with 39. That was a franchise best, as were his totals in yards (4,717), completion percentage (69.2) and passer rating (110.9). He also set single-season league records for combined yards passing and rushing (5,123) and five-touchdown games (three).

When Moss partially tore his right hamstring in mid-October, Culpepper was left to cope without his best wide receiver. Even when Moss returned, the high-powered Minnesota offense lacked the consistency and balance it showed in the first half of the season.

Culpepper, though, certainly wasn't the culprit. Turnovers were once his biggest problem, but he hasn't had one in four games and wound up with only 11 interceptions.

The learning curve

Decision-making is the area in which Culpepper, who turns 28 later this month, has made the most strides.

An over-determination to make big plays often led to crucial mistakes in the past, but now he's content to take a sack when the rush is on or throw the ball out of bounds even if it's third down.

"The greatest plays he makes in a game, no one really notices," said offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, who coaches the quarterbacks and has had a big hand in Culpepper's development.

Late in the first quarter against the Packers, after the Vikings scored on their first three series and led 17-3, Culpepper dropped back on third-and-6 at the Minnesota 30-yard line and felt blitzing cornerback Michael Hawthorne wrap up him around the waist.

As he fell, Culpepper pumped and considered throwing to Nate Burleson. But Green Bay's Darren Sharper sneaked up and was poised for an interception if the ball came. Culpepper safely took the sack, and Minnesota punted.

"I'm not going to say for sure," Linehan said, "but three years ago I think he would've tried to make that play. Because he would've thought that a sack would've been more negative than trying to make the throw. He's just showing his maturity, his intelligence."




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