Turning Point: Down Goes Culpepper

The Vikings were looking like a team ready to take away Carolina's momentum at the end of the first quarter when Daunte Culpepper's knee, the Vikings offense and maybe the season buckled under the pressure of one tackle.

There are times when a turning point of a game can be something subtle that doesn't come immediately to mind until one looks a little deeper.

But VU's Turning Point of the Game Sunday was about as subtle as a kick to the face, as the game and – depending on its severity – the 2005 season spun with the right knee of Daunte Culpepper.

As has become the custom of the Vikings of 2005, the team fell behind early. They had been dominated in time of possession and yardage, but after a missed 55-yard field goal attempt from Carolina kicker John Kasay, the Vikings had a short field to work with trailing 7-0 and the early advantage for the Panthers looked to be going for naught.

After having a 16-yard run by Mewelde Moore brought back for a speculative holding call on Jim Kleinsasser, Culpepper had converted a third down with a 10-yard sidearm pass to Moe Williams and, two plays later, took off on a 18-yard scramble to the Panther 15. But on that play, his right knee was twisted awkwardly and the team was on the move as the game moved to the second quarter, but the Vikings were more concerned about their quarterback.

As Culpepper went to the sidelines, Brad Johnson came in. The Vikings seemed unwilling to take a chance with Johnson in the Red Zone, rushing Mewelde Moore for a 5-yard gain on first down and staying to ground with a sweep to Michael Bennett, which, as it often does, gained nothing. Forced to pass on third down, the Panthers came with a full-out blitz and tackled Johnson for a 5-yard loss.

The Vikings seemed content to come away with points instead of pushing the issue and testing the pass defense of the Panthers. But, when a bad snap turned into a missed 33-yard field goal by Paul Edinger, the positive emotion seemed to be sucked out of the Vikings.

By the time Johnson got back on the field, the Vikings now trailed 10-0. Again forced into a third-and-long after two running plays that gained nothing, Johnson was blitzed again and unloaded a 9-yard pass that was short of the first down.

By the time he made it back from that squandered drive, the Vikings trailed 17-0. Again, the Vikings ran twice to start the drive and left Johnson with third-and-7. He threw an incompletion that was almost intercepted and the drive ended with a three-and-out that, despite two running plays, took just 1:35 off the clock.

By the time Johnson got back on the field again, the Vikings were looking at a 24-0 deficit and the snowball that had started rolling with the final play of the first quarter with the team driving for a potential game-tying touchdown was now an avalanche and a blowout of epic proportions … again.

It seemed only fitting that Johnson would end the half trying to make a pass and got buried for an 8-yard sack. In 15 minutes, the Vikings had gone from making a game of it with the Panthers to being buried 24-0. Those fifteen minutes that were spent without their starting quarterback, which made it the Turning Point of the Game, but if the injury is serious, it could well be the Turning Point of the Season.

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