Interception Bright Spot in Loss

Darren Sharper has been a consistent bright spot in the second half of the season and has a chance to break a Vikings record and prove his doubters wrong.

Faced with the prospect of having to pay Darren Sharper a $6 million salary in 2005, the Green Bay Packers released the veteran free safety a day before he was due a $2.6 million roster bonus in March.

Sharper, 30, who had refused the Packers' attempt to cut his pay to $2 million, quickly signed with Green Bay's archrival, the Vikings. The move turned out to be one of Minnesota's best in the offseason makeover of its defense.

Sharper is among the NFL leaders with nine interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns, and was elected to the NFC Pro Bowl roster for the third time in his nine-year career. Not bad for a guy whom many thought was at the end of his career after playing through a knee injury for much of last season.

"It is a little bit of gratification because of the fact that you come to a new team," said Sharper, whose fourth-quarter interception Sunday against Baltimore tied his career high. "The team that you left might have thought you were headed downhill. But I always believed and knew that if I made it through a season or played the majority of the season, I would have the opportunity to put up numbers that would categorize into a Pro Bowl nomination.

"It is just a blessing to play around a team that has so much talent that allows me to do what I do. Also the Minnesota Vikings organization that brought me in, and believe that I could continue to play at a high level."

Sharper, who signed a four-year contract, is one interception away from the Vikings' single-season record of 10 held by Paul Krause. He already has set a Vikings record with 267 interception return yards, despite missing two games because of a knee injury early in the season.

"I think his numbers speak for themselves," coach Mike Tice said of Sharper. "He has done a great job for us once he picked up the system. He has played so much faster. His communication out there on the field is excellent right now."

Said Sharper: "I pretty much silenced the critics by proving that I can still play at a top level. I feel that I can do this for years to come because of how I feel and how my body feels. But it is just as gratifying as the first time that I went because of all the things that were thought to be about me as a player at this point in my career."


NOTES

  • The Vikings gave up three passing touchdowns to Baltimore on third-down situations and lost 30-23 to the host Ravens. The defeat officially brought an end to the Vikings' playoff hopes.

  • CB Ralph Brown was replaced as the Vikings' dime back after giving up a 6-yard touchdown pass to TE Todd Heap and a 47-yarder to WR Mark Clayton on Sunday against Baltimore.

  • RT Marcus Johnson missed Sunday's game against Baltimore because of a sprained right ankle. Veteran Mike Rosenthal, the starter at that position for the season's first 10 games, replaced Johnson.

  • C Melvin Fowler sat out the Baltimore game because of a sprained left ankle. Cory Withrow, who opened the season as the Vikings' starting center, subbed for Fowler.

  • TE Jermaine Wiggins played against Baltimore despite a sprained left ankle that limited him in practice last week. Wiggins' touchdown catch in the game was the first by a Vikings tight end this season.

  • SS Corey Chavous played against the Ravens despite having a high right ankle sprain.

  • LB Heath Farwell (sprained right knee) sat out for a third consecutive game Sunday.


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