Game Day Turning Point

Daunte Culpepper showed Thursday night against the Steelers why having an all-around athlete with superior field presence is such an advantage for the Vikings.

As regular readers of the turning point section know, sometimes it can be a series of plays, some intangible or one particular play that helps turn a game around. In Thursday's win, it was an individual effort within a single play that created the turning point of the Vikings win.

With a first quarter in the books in which the Steelers had dominated the Vikings, Minnesota needed a spark. Daunte Culpepper provided several in a key 17-play drive, but one stuck out among the others that perhaps only Culpepper could have pulled off.

The Vikings had already converted a pair of third-down plays — a 3-yard run by Jim Kleinsasser and a 14-yard pass from Culpepper to Cris Carter. But, three plays later, the Vikings were faced with a third-and-5 from the Steelers 31 and Culpepper made a huge play that changed the face of the game.

The Steelers came with a blitz and looked to have Culpepper trapped. With a man draped over him, he looked certain to go down for a sack that not only would have ended the drive, but taken the Vikings out of field goal range. Officials came charging in ready to blow whistles, but Culpepper refused to go down, straightened up and delivered an 8-yard pass to Jake Reed for a first down to keep the drive alive.

That play seemed to energize the Vikings. After that drive ended in a game-tying touchdown, the Viking defense got an interception on the next Steelers possession and, with the Steelers no longer blitzing Culpepper, he had time to deliver a 59-yard bomb to Randy Moss to lead to another score — putting momentum clearly on the side of the Vikings.

The steamroller continued, as Talance Sawyer and Lance Johnstone combined for another turnover in the final minute of the first half that resulted in a Vikings field goal. It turned what easily could have been more than the 7-0 deficit the Vikings faced before Culpepper made his spectacular individual effort into a 17-7 halftime lead. And the Steelers never got within a touchdown from that point on.

When it comes to turning the tide of a football game, it sometimes simply requires the extraordinary effort of one player to make the big difference. For his unwillingness to take a sack on a critical third down play, Culpepper gave the rest of the offense a chance to get the team back in the game, get the fans on their feet for the first time and provide a spark for the entire team. In short, he provided the turning point of the game on pure athleticism. VU

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