Culpepper Needs Fast Start

With the success Gus Frerotte had relieving Daunte Culpepper for 2-1/2 games, the Metrodome crowd may not be patient if Culpepper starts slow on Sunday.

If you thought the cheers and chants for Todd Bouman were loud at the Metrodome last season, just wait to see how popular Gus Frerotte becomes if Daunte Culpepper gets off to a slow start against Denver on Sunday.

Culpepper was so hot at the beginning of the season, he won September's NFC Offensive Player of the Month despite missing 1 1/2 games that month. He was leading the NFL in passer rating (108.0) with five touchdowns, no interceptions and a 60.9 completion percentage when he left the Detroit game because of small bone fractures in his lower back.

Frerotte, who was signed during the offseason to replace Bouman as the backup quarterback, stepped in, preserved the victory over Detroit and posted a 2-0 mark against San Francisco and Atlanta. He has a 119.9 passer rating, seven touchdowns and two interceptions.

The Vikings are one of only three NFL teams with an undefeated record. They're also the only unbeaten team changing quarterbacks for the second time in four games.

The timing could have been better. Denver (5-1) will be the best team the Vikings have faced this season. The Broncos' defense has 17 sacks, including seven in last week's 17-14 victory over Pittsburgh.

Culpepper isn't quite 100 percent and won't run as many, if any of the quarterback draws that makes him such a dangerous quarterback. He'll also have to shake the rust of having practiced only five times in a month.

"Even though I haven't gotten a lot of physical reps the last couple of weeks, I got a lot of mental reps," Culpepper said. "I just take that as a positive. Now, all I have to do is get back-into-the-groove things."

For Culpepper's sake, let's hope those back-into-the-groove things come in the first quarter Sunday. The longer it takes him to feel comfortable, the more uncomfortable the crowd will make him feel.

And who knows how bad it will get if Culpepper loses a fumble. He has lost three this season and 12 in his last 19 games.

So far, Culpepper's return has gone smoothly. Frerotte respectfully stepped aside. Coach Mike Tice has praised Culpepper's effort to get back to 100 percent physically and mentally. And the team is behind their No. 1 QB.

"Daunte is our guy," center Matt Birk said. "He's our leader."

So far, so good. But stay tuned.

SERIES HISTORY: 11th meeting. The Vikings lead 6-4, including 3-2 at home. The Vikings won the last meeting, 23-20 at Denver in 1999. Denver won the last meeting at the Metrodome, 21-17 in 1996.

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