Last season Daunte Culpepper admittedly pressed. He took too many chances throwing the ball to receivers that weren't open. He took too many chances running the ball at inopportune times. Bottom line: He took too many chances.
The result in 2002 was a career-low quarterback rating, a career-worst 23 interceptions and a career-worst amount of fumbles. Surprisingly, the Vikings answered Culpepper's worst season with a 10-year deal worth $102 million, highlighted by a $16 million signing bonus.
As the Vikings enter their 10th game of the season Sunday in Oakland, it is clear that Culpepper has played with much more patience this year. He throws the ball away when it appears no receivers are open. He isn't so prone to tucking the ball away and trying to run. Both are signs of a maturing quarterback, Vikings coaches say.
But maybe the pendulum of patience has swung too far the other way.
Maybe, just maybe, Culpepper needs to take a few more chances. Winning quarterbacks play to win. They don't play not to lose.
Could Culpepper, in fact, be too timid?
"He hasn't been tentative. He hasn't shied away from contact," Vikings offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. "People say he holds the ball a little bit, but we hold the ball a little longer than the West Coast offenses. The thing Daunte has done well is he hasn't forced things. He's played extremely well. He's really matured."
Culpepper echoes Linehan's thoughts.
"If it is not there I am not going to force the issue because most teams try to keep me in the pocket and try to keep a spy on me so I can't run," Culpepper said. "Most teams try to cover our receivers downfield and not give me any alleys to run. So I buy time to move around in the pocket. But when the lane is there I am going to be aggressive and take it."
Despite what both coach and player say, the Vikings offense is loaded with enough weapons to afford Culpepper a few more occasional opportunities to gamble with both his passing and running.
Culpepper claims he hasn't made a conscious effort to cut down on his interceptions. Instead, he has just tried to play the role of a more cerebral quarterback.
"I'm not going to say that it was my main focus," Culpepper said. "I just want to play smart and put ourselves in the best position to win games. You do that by not turning the ball over and by making smart decisions with the ball.
"What I'm most concerned about and happiest about is our record. If that wasn't good, then I wouldn't be doing my job. When you're winning, that's what it's all about. You do that and everything falls into place."
The Green Bay Packers have played the Vikings twice. They've noticed an improved Culpepper in both games.
"He seems a lot more mature than last year," said Packers safety Marques Anderson. "He and (Randy) Moss kind of squashed that beef they had last season, and both have played great football."
Packers head coach Mike Sherman is impressed with Culpepper, too.
"Him throwing his first pick of the season (Oct. 26) is fantastic, considering they throw a fair amount of the deep ball," Sherman said.
Has Culpepper Become Too Conservative?
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