High respect for Culpepper

Packers aware that struggling Vikings quarterback has flourished against them

In coach Mike Sherman's words, "Trust me, we're going to prepare for Daunte Culpepper's best shot because I'm sure we'll get it."

Sherman wasn't kidding, making the declaration Wednesday with a straight, bordering-on-concerned face. Forget all the troubles the Vikings quarterback has endured early in the season - a league-leading 12 interceptions, as well as 24 sacks to trail only David Carr's 30 - the Packers are expecting to see the other side of Culpepper on Sunday at Minnesota.

An all-too-familiar other side, underscored by mistake-free football.

In the last five meetings between the teams, dating to the season opener in 2003, Culpepper hasn't had a pass intercepted. He's completed 98 of 160 passes for 1,329 yards and 16 touchdowns in that impeccable span.

The 2004 season alone, Culpepper was a scintillating 62-of-96 passing for 932 yards and 11 TDs. Although Minnesota lost both regular-season encounters with the Packers, it didn't squander a four-touchdown performance by Culpepper in winning an NFC wild-card playoff game 31-17 at Green Bay.

Yet Culpepper hasn't been the same since, seemingly overrun and unnerved by no longer having top receiver Randy Moss, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and a sturdy offensive line.

Consequently, in less than a year, the perception has been that Culpepper has degenerated from an MVP-caliber quarterback into a seventh-year veteran whose best days are behind him. Packers counterpart Brett Favre scoffed at such a suggestion in defending his division rival this week.

"I think anyone who has any football sense at all knows that these five games are no indication of what type of quarterback he is," Favre said. "It just goes to show that we're all human. At times, it doesn't go your way.

"I'm sure he's pressing a lot, and I know that he's a great competitor (and) is a very good quarterback. And when it doesn't go the way you would like, you feel like it's you and you've got to do something more, and then you press and then it just gets worse. And you want everyone around you to think the way you do, and you want to get this thing back on track, and sometimes, guys go the other way. And you're trying to raise your level of play, and other guys are just trying to get through."

Moss invariably was a thorn in the side of the Packers in his seven years in Minnesota. While players and coaches acknowledged that the game plan for defending the Vikings changes without the presence of Moss, who generally attracted double coverage, the Packers secondary will be on its toes Sunday.

Minnesota is expected to have Nate Burleson on the field after he missed the last three games with a knee injury. He torched the Packers for career highs of 11 catches and 141 yards at Green Bay in the first meeting last season, then had a personal-best 68-yard reception for a touchdown in a Christmas Eve rematch in Minneapolis.

"All the receivers they have are capable of making plays and have done it in the past. All it takes is for them to catch one ball and run with it to get them going," Packers safety Mark Roman said. "We can't really say, 'They ain't got Randy, so it's going to be a walk in the park for us.'

"It's still going to be a competitive game. I don't see how you can say it's going to be an easy game because Moss isn't there."

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