Johnson's calm approach boosts Vikings

OWINGS MILLS -- Intelligence, cautiousness and experience are invaluable attributes for an NFL quarterback. With veteran Brad Johnson having led a resurrection of the troubled Minnesota Vikings, those qualities are evident from his lack of interceptions to his penchant for identifying a defense's major weakness.

In seven starts since taking over for an injured Daunte Culpepper, Johnson has won six games. Rarely, has he done anything spectacular in his second stint with the Vikings.

His steadiness and accuracy have defined his reputation and put Minnesota, which began the season 2-5, in playoff contention heading into Sunday night's game against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium.

"He doesn't make a lot of mistakes, he manages the game well, he can throw all the passes," Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister said. "For the most part when he is under pressure and under duress, he will do the right thing with the ball. You won't be seeing any toss-ups out of this guy."

That scouting report is about the polar opposite of Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre, who took undue risks in Baltimore's 48-3 win as he threw two interceptions and could have tossed at least six if not for the Ravens' suspect hands.

Johnson has thrown eight touchdowns and only four interceptions, which is two more scores than Culpepper and two less interceptions with only two more overall throws.

The 14-year veteran who earned a Super Bowl ring with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after the 2002 season has completed 60.6 percent of his passes for a respectable 83.7 passer rating compared to Culpepper's 72.0 rating. Johnson has been sacked 11 times less than Culpepper.

"Really, I'm just trying to make the correct read, put us in the right position, make the right run check, make the right pass check and score when we get in the red zone," Johnson said. "I am just playing the way I have always played."
Until the Vikings faltered in the red zone last week with only three points in four trips inside the Pittsburgh Steelers' 20, everything had gone pretty smoothly under Johnson. He slipped to a 38.6 passer rating last week with two interceptions. One of his turnovers was an ill-advised, two-handed chest pass intended for Koren Robinson while under immense pressure.

"Up until a few poor choices that he would love to have back in the game the other day, he has played really smart for us," said Vikings coach Mike Tice, who has endured far worse with four players, including Culpepper, charged with indecent conduct, disorderly conduct and lewd or lascivious conduct for their alleged role in an embarrassing sex scandal on a boat cruise. "Making enough plays for us to win, managing the huddle, managing the game, he has just been the ultimate pro for us. He settled us down after we lost our leader, Daunte Culpepper."

Johnson has posted a 100 passer rating or higher three times, with 60 percent accuracy in five outings. That efficiency has the Vikings in the thick of a crowded NFC wild-card playoff hunt.

Johnson signed with Minnesota in the offseason after no starting jobs materialized.

"We wanted to sign him because Daunte runs the ball, plays hard and you always have a contingency plan," Tice said. "Of course, we didn't think we would lose Daunte for the season, but he's really sustained us."
Ravens coach Brian Billick is far from surprised at Johnson's longevity and skill. He was a tight ends coach when the Vikings drafted Johnson in the ninth round out of Florida State in 1992 and the offensive coordinator in 1998 when the Vikings scored an NFL-record 556 points.

Johnson began the year as the starter but got hurt and was replaced by Randall Cunningham.

"For whatever reason, Brad has never been given the credit he's due," Billick said. "He's sitting there with a Super Bowl ring and a 60-percent completion rate virtually his whole career no matter where he went, no matter what the system, not matter what the coach.

"Even I couldn't screw him up enough. He is undervalued. I'm thrilled that he has the opportunity to show once again that he's a great quarterback."

Johnson and Billick nearly reunited in 2001 after the Ravens discarded Trent Dilfer, but Johnson signed with Tampa and Baltimore wound up with enigmatic passer Elvis Grbac. Johnson won a Super Bowl, and the Ravens have just one playoff win in the last five seasons.

"Everyone assumed that I would just come to Baltimore because Brian was there, there is a lot of respect and a lot of time spent together," Johnson said. "That was a place at that time that I really thought about going to.

"I had to do what was best for me and I thought the best decision at that time was to go to Tampa. Things worked themselves out."


In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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