NOTEBOOK: Brad Not Bad

Brad Johnson played an effective quarterback for the Vikings Sunday night, but Baltimore head coach Brian Billick expected nothing less. Plus: The Vikings' musical M's continued at running back, they limited Baltimore's rushing attack while the Ravens shut down Minnesota's most explosive player, and a number of other comparisons that didn't bode well for the Vikings.

The Minnesota-Baltimore matchup Sunday night was supposed to be about defense, but both quarterbacks – a young Kyle Boller searching for respect in Baltimore and a veteran Brad Johnson searching for a playoff berth in Minnesota – showed how an efficient quarterback can sometimes overcome a solid defense.

While Boller slightly edged Johnson in passer rating (113.5 to 107.2), the fact that each QB put up that kind of performance was a mild surprise considering the defensive-minded approach of the Ravens and Vikings this season.

Ironically, Ravens head coach Brian Billick made a run at Brad Johnson in 2001, before the quarterback joined the Tampa Bay Bucs, but Billick didn't refrain from praising Johnson last week, even if Boller was coming off the best game of his professional career. He recorded the best quarterback rating (136.8) in Ravens history last Monday night, just eight days removed from committing three critical turnovers in perhaps the worst game of his career.

"I'm biased with my personal affection for Brad and the relationship we have. I'm thrilled to see Brad being given this opportunity to show what his abilities are about. Brad, his entire career for whatever reason, has always been underappreciated and undervalued by the teams and by the league," Billick said. "You're talking about a Super Bowl-winning quarterback, a guy that has had better than a 60 percent completion percentage substantially for his entire career. Again, I've got to label my bias up front because of the personal relationship with Brad. I'm thrilled that Brad is having this opportunity."

For his part, Johnson credited Billick for changing Minnesota's offense when Billick was the coordinator in the 1990s before leaving for Baltimore in 1998.

"He simplified things, made things where there were concepts involved, whether reading box counts or different route progressions," Johnson said. "At first it was kind of a Washington Redskins offense, (but) he kind of opened it up to a West Coast Offense and put both of them together. It's been a tremendous offense over the years – really from that time when it all came together in 1992."

Johnson said there were two times that he nearly ended up with Billick in Baltimore.

"There were two instances that came up," Johnson said. "When I was traded in 1998, I was pretty much headed to Baltimore, and Washington had the picks and came in and topped it at that time. Also, I was a free agent two years later. I looked at Baltimore real hard and things just didn't work itself out. At that time I chose to go to Tampa. I thought there would be a point that things would work and maybe get us back together. There is a lot of respect between both of us; it just never worked itself out."

After Boller's performance the last two games, the young gun of the Ravens may have secured his starting spot again next year, and with Johnson locked up for another season in Minnesota and the Vikings needing his security with an uncertain recovery from a serious knee injury to starter Daunte Culpepper, Billick and Johnson seem destined to stay apart in 2006.


The Vikings' back-and-forth match between their top two running backs continued to volley Sunday. On Christmas night, it was advantage Moore.

Michael Bennett started the game and was given the ball on two of the first three plays from scrimmage, a 10-yard pass and a run for minus-1 yard. But that's all Bennett saw the ball.

Mewelde Moore's first rush from scrimmage went 22 yards, and Bennett never saw the ball again. Moore finished with 49 yards on 10 rushes, and four receptions for an additional 42 yards.

It was hardly a surprise that the Vikings would switch back to Moore. Since the Vikings began to turn around a first-half slump with a win against Detroit, their leading rushers in succession were Bennett (18 carries), Bennett (19), Moore (22), Moore (21), Bennett (22), Bennett (18), Bennett (11) and now Moore (10).

The decline in rushes the last two games mirrors the Vikings' two-game losing streak, but the previous listing also demonstrates their inability to establish a consistent, feature running back.


The flip side is that the Vikings' rushing defense has been a relative strong point this season, and that effort continued against Baltimore. The Vikings held 2003 NFL Offensive Player of the Year Jamal Lewis to 74 yards on 24 carries and backup Chester Taylor to 15 yards on five carries.

As a team, the Vikings held Baltimore to a 2.8-yard average on 88 yards rushing, the sixth time this season Minnesota has limited its opponent to fewer than 100 yards rushing.


While the Vikings held the Ravens' grinder in check, Baltimore tied down the Vikings' most explosive player – Koren Robinson.

The Pro Bowl kick returner was limited to 78 yards on four returns, a 19.5-yard average. Robinson came into the game averaging 26.6 yards per return.

The Vikings did even better in their coverage of replacement kick returner Chester Taylor, filling in for an injured B.J. Sams. Taylor averaged only 16.8 yards per kickoff return on five attempts.

On offense, Minnesota's Robinson, the team's best deep threat, was held to one catch for 5 yards.


The Vikings' other deep threat, rookie Troy Williamson, didn't get behind the defense, but the inconsistent rookie did slip one tackle following his only reception of the game and, thanks to downfield blocking by Robinson, turned his lone grab into a 56-yard gain, the most yards receiving for a Viking in the game.

Williamson was the Vikings' No. 7 overall draft choice last spring. Baltimore wide receiver Mark Clayton was selected 15 picks later.

To date, Williamson has 22 catches for 360 yards. Clayton has 41 for 460. In the second half of the season, Williamson doesn't have a single game with more than one catch. Clayton has 29 receptions for 365 yards in his last eight games.


Rookie punter Chris Kluwe started the season gangbusters and generally performed very well until a knee injury took him out of commission for one game and limited his effectiveness in the last two.

Kluwe averaged only 30.5 yards on four punts Sunday night, but he did drop two inside the 20-yard line and had a 15-yard stinker that ended on the Baltimore 25-yard line. Conversely, Baltimore's Dave Zastudil averaged 51.5 yards on his two punts, neither ending inside the 20-yard line.


As expected, the Vikings had two new starters on the offensive line due to injuries. Cory Withrow started in place of Melvin Fowler at center, and Mike Rosenthal took Marcus Johnson's place at right tackle. Both Withrow and Rosenthal, the more veteran players, were starters at those positions earlier this year but were supplanted by the youngsters after what was deemed ineffective play.

Rosenthal has won the golden hammer three times this year, grading out as the best offensive lineman during those performances, according to Tice.


Miscellaneous statistical categories the Vikings lost Sunday night:

Minnesota converted only 3 of 9 third-down attempts. Baltimore finished 10 of 15.

The Vikings' average gain per pass play was 5.6 yards; the Ravens averaged 7.8.

Kluwe's net punting average was 30.5 (no Baltimore returns); Zastudil's was 43.5.

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