Can It Get Any Worse?

The Vikings' on- and off-field problems have to be completely puzzling to owner Zygi Wilf.

It's hard to believe things can get much worse for Mike Tice's team.

Picked by nearly everyone to win the NFC North and by some to be the conference's Super Bowl representative, the Vikings' disastrous season took another dramatic turn for the worse last Sunday when quarterback Daunte Culpepper blew out three ligaments in his right knee during a 38-13 loss at Carolina.

The question isn't so much when will Culpepper return as it is, will he play again and, if so, how effective can the one-time running threat be on a reconstructed knee?

Without Culpepper and with a 2-5 record, the Vikings will turn to veteran quarterback Brad Johnson when they face the Detroit Lions on Sunday at the Metrodome.

The scary thing is the Vikings remain in the division race despite showing a complete inability to even compete in four road games. Minnesota is two games behind NFC North-leading Chicago (4-3) and only one game back of the second-place Lions (3-4). The Packers (1-6) actually trail the Vikings.

With Johnson at quarterback, the Vikings will have to tweak their offense to fit his style. Culpepper is not only far more mobile than Johnson but he also has a much stronger arm. Johnson is more comfortable with short, timing passes that likely will give things more of a West Coast look.

As the Vikings struggled to a 1-4 start, some called for Johnson to get an opportunity, even if it meant benching Culpepper for a half. But coach Mike Tice had no intention of going to Johnson - at least, not until the final play of the first quarter last Sunday, when Culpepper ripped up his knee.

"This is just another hurdle we have to overcome as a football team," Tice said.

But that's the problem. The Vikings have shown a complete inability to overcome any hurdles at all this season. Off-the-field distractions have only added to the mix. Cornerback Fred Smoot getting embarrassed by Carolina receiver Steve Smith was just the latest on-the-field humiliation.

Owner Zygi Wilf appears to have gone from upset after losses to thoroughly baffled at exactly what type of organization he bought from Red McCombs. As the Vikings struggled early, it appeared he might make a coaching change in order to spark things. But Wilf said that wouldn't happen, and sticking to the promise might be his best move.

As tempting as it might be for the Vikings to think they have an actual chance to rebound in the horrendous NFC North, the best thing might be to watch this coaching staff and team fail on a nearly weekly basis and walk away with a high draft pick and a completely revamped front office and locker room in 2006.

As badly as things have gone for the Vikings, Wilf will have no problem jettisoning any member of the organization he wants this off-season without having to justify the move to fans or media.

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