The quarterback suffered what the team believes is a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in Sunday's 38-13 loss at Carolina. An MRI on Monday morning was expected to confirm the injury. There also was fear about the possibility of damage to other ligaments and even the bones around Culpepper's knee.
"If it's as serious as it appears," coach Mike Tice said, "it's devastating for our football team."
Culpepper was injured on the final play of the first quarter when he was tackled by cornerback Chris Gamble and free safety Mike Minter as he completed an 18-yard run. Gamble hit Culpepper around the knees and Minter tackled him high.
Culpepper was attended to on the field and then helped to the sidelines. He was eventually taken to the locker room on a cart and replaced by backup Brad Johnson.
The veteran played the final three quarters and finished 13 of 28 for 162 yards with a touchdown. Johnson, who spent his first seven years with the Vikings, will become a starter again after being out of that role for the past year-plus.
He was with Tampa Bay that past four seasons and led the Buccaneers past Oakland in Super Bowl XXXVII. Johnson, however, lost his starting job to Brian Griese in 2004 and signed with the Vikings as a free agent during the offseason.
At 37, his arm strength could be considered suspect but the Vikings hope his savvy will help to compensate.
"We can make up for some of the different styles by using more short passing and things we tried to go to in the second half (against Carolina) to give ourselves the chance to suit his style a little bit," Tice said.
"But Brad is a very good quarterback. He's won the Super Bowl and we have faith in Brad, and the guys believe in him."
As for Culpepper, the injury prematurely ends what had been a very difficult season. Coming off an MVP-type 2004, the quarterback finishes with a career-low rating of 72.0 and had 12 interceptions and only six touchdown passes as the Vikings started 2-5. He also was sacked 31 times.
Culpepper's right knee had been an issue since the opener against Tampa Bay, when he suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament and developed bursitis. Those injuries were thought to be getting better just as the latest setback occurred.
"It's huge," tight end Jermaine Wiggins said of the loss. "He's the leader, he's your quarterback, he's the captain of this team. It's definitely a tough blow. But also we've got a guy in Brad Johnson who has been to a Super Bowl and won a Super Bowl and was prepared to come in and play. That's always a good thing when you know the backup is a very good player."
Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey needs the bye week to get healthy.
After re-aggravating his hamstring injury against Philadelphia on Sunday, Bailey took himself out of the game in the third quarter. He gave up three long catches to the Eagles, including a 91-yard touchdown to Terrell Owens and a 46-yard catch to Owens that set up another touchdown.
Bailey has been slowed by the hamstring injury since Denver's third game of the season. He also missed the entire preseason with a hamstring injury.
"Sometimes you have to pass it on and say 'I'm doing everything I can but ... ," safety John Lynch said. "I think the thing bit him a little. The bye comes at a nice time for him to get that thing healthy."
Bailey has only started and finished two games all season. He suffered a dislocated shoulder in Denver's first game, played through that injury in Week 2 and then suffered the hamstring injury that has hampered him.
The only way Bailey's hamstring will improve is with rest, and he'll get some in the next week.
"I think this week is really going to help him, where he can sit back and just stay off of it for a while," coach Mike Shanahan said.
The Broncos took a 28-0 lead with 7:47 left in the second quarter after Stephen Alexander's 3-yard touchdown catch. Denver blitzed often and sent as many as nine players at Donovan McNabb, whose first 12 attempts were incomplete.
The Eagles got back in the game, and trailed only 28-21 in the fourth quarter when McNabb threw an interception to Broncos rookie cornerback Domonique Foxworth. Todd Devoe, who didn't have a catch in his NFL career before Sunday's game, caught a 44-yard touchdown shortly after to turn the game back in Denver's favor.
--QB Jake Plummer has now gone 25 straight quarters without an interception. Plummer threw four touchdowns against the Eagles, and now has 12 touchdowns and three interceptions this season.
--RB Tatum Bell had a 67-yard touchdown, his eighth run of 20 or more yards this season. Bell and Mike Anderson are each on pace for 1,000 yards this season. They each had 100 yards against the Eagles.
--WR Rod Smith caught a pass in his 100th straight game, and is the sixth player with an active streak of 100 or more games. Smith caught five passes for 76 yards and a touchdown.
--OT George Foster rotated with backup Cornell Green because Foster has been slowed because of a knee injury. Foster injured his knee against New England on Oct. 16 and hasn't played at the same level since then.
--CB Lenny Walls was out with a groin injury against the Eagles. The Broncos need Champ Bailey and Walls to get healthy over their bye this week.
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