In the season opener against Tampa Bay, Culpepper threw three interceptions and fumbled twice, which led to a QB rating of 49.2, dreadful according to league standards. In his 73 career starts prior to the season he had never laid a bigger egg. Ironically, it took him just seven days to sink to a lower depth. Last week in Cincinnati, Culpepper threw a career-high five interceptions, which led to a QB rating of 36.4.
For the season, Culpepper has thrown eight interceptions and fumbled twice. His two-game QB rating is 41.6, which is a far cry from his career rating of 93.2.
Culpepper was asked if he had ever experienced a worse two-game stretch. "I don't know. It all comes down to winning and losing," Culpepper said. "When you win or lose, no matter how you play, we can lose a game and I throw for over 300 or 400 yards, I feel the same way. It doesn't matter. It is all about winning and losing."
In his six seasons as the team's starting quarterback, Culpepper has never strung together back-to-back games where his QB rating was below 50.0. In fact, before this season, Culpepper has never seen his rating sink below 50 in a single regular-season game, let alone two.
Vikings head coach Mike Tice has subtly and not-so-subtly suggested that Culpepper is trying to do too much and forcing plays. "The key to victory is to make the plays when they are afforded an opportunity to make the plays," Tice said. "That's the key to victory, making the plays when you're afforded. Not so much trying too hard no matter what position."
"When you get down, it doesn't really help a lot to press and try to make it all back in one play," said Culpepper, sounding as if he is taking an oral exam to show if he has learned his lesson. "You just chip away, chip away and the next thing you know, you are down by one score, maybe two scores. That's the goal and that's how I have been coached and that is what I have to do."
What should be encouraging to the Vikings is that Culpepper always has bounced back after a two-week slump.
Another indication Culpepper could be due for a big week is that traditionally he has fared well against the Saints. He is 3-1 against New Orleans with 12 touchdowns and three interceptions.
Receiver Marcus Robinson has been with the Vikings for just more than a season. Even though Culpepper has struggled, Robinson doesn't place much blame on his quarterback.
"Everyone on this team blames themselves," Robinson said. "It's not Daunte's fault, it's not the offensive coordinator's fault. Everybody has to look at themselves and see what they can do to make this team better."
Culpepper includes himself in the bunch Robinson is talking about.
The reasons for Culpepper's struggles are endless. He is playing for a new coordinator (Steve Loney) and a new quarterbacks coach (Rich Olson). His main target throughout his career (Randy Moss) is banished to Oakland. His Pro Bowl center (Matt Birk) is out for the season. And even though it hasn't been mentioned on the injury report since he hasn't missed any practice, Culpepper's right knee has been causing him soreness and swelling.
But Culpepper insists those factors don't matter. He is moving forward, he says. Despite tough times, better ones lay ahead.
"I have been down before and I am going to get up," he said. "The thing that I really care about is my teammates. They know how hard I am going to try to do my part and get us back into the winning flow of things."
Robinson is one of the teammates Culpepper is talking about.
"I see him going out and doing the same things he always does — give us opportunities when he can to make plays," Robinson said. "He's the same guy who's thrown for 3,000 yards three times. I'm not worried about Daunte at all. He's a great guy, a great leader and he's going to look at himself in the mirror, just like everyone else."