When the Vikings got off to their hot start, the play of Daunte Culpepper was credited for the turnaround. After coming off a 2002 season in which he set an NFL record for turnovers, his control of the ball was hailed as a turning point for him as well as the team. But Sunday, Culpepper reverted to his old form, providing too many turnovers that created the multiple turning points of the game.
The first was perhaps the most devastating. Onterrio Smith returned the game's opening kick 44 yards into Raiders territory, and the Vikings had an opportunity to put an early stamp on the game. Instead, Culpepper's first pass was a sideline route that was intercepted by Phillip Buchanon and returned 64 yards for a touchdown. Instead of putting the Raiders in an early hole, Oakland led 7-0 in the game's first minute.
Both teams turned the ball over in subsequent drives, but Culpepper's second turnover — painfully reminiscent of scenes from last year — turned the game around. Trailing 7-3 with 11:24 to play in the second quarter, Culpepper dropped to pass. In the face of a blitz from Napoleon Harris, instead of taking the sack, Culpepper tried to hurry a pass. Instead, the ball popped out his hand and was recovered by Oakland on the 1-yard line. Zack Crockett would pound the ball in on the next play and the Raiders would have a 14-3 lead.
Culpepper had an interception in the third quarter, but it was a meaningless pick on a fourth-and-20 play that essentially was a punt. But his next turnover would prove to be a back-breaker. With the ball on the Raiders 12 with 11:01 to play, Culpepper called a quarterback draw. He got his feet tangled with Moe Williams and hit the ground. As he lay there, the ball came out and Oakland recovered — killing the drive.
Despite all these problems, the Vikings still had a chance to win. Trailing 21-18 with 3:06 to play, the Vikings had the ball on their own 4-yard line with three time outs and a chance to drive the length of the field for a win. Instead, Culpepper was intercepted by Rod Woodson at the 11-yard line. The Raiders would use that field position to pound in another touchdown to arrive at the final score of 28-18.
For much of the year, Culpepper has played like a Pro Bowler. But Sunday he reverted to the form that made him a liability in 2002 and, in the process, single-handedly created the turning points of the game.
Turning Point: Culpepper's Performance
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