Notebook: Fanciful Firsts and Lasts

The Vikings are finding success early and late in games on offense, just not as much in the middle. Plus, get notes and quotes on Brad Johnson and Rod Marinelli, toughening up before the bye and Daunte Culpepper's comments on his early-season struggles.

The Vikings offense is hot – maybe not for a whole game, but they are hot to start games.

Minnesota's offense has driven down the field to score to start each of their four games, allowing the team to come away with a touchdown and a six-point lead (on a botched hold on the point-after attempt) in the opener and a field goal and a three-point lead in each of their last three games.

"I think we've made the plays and we stayed away from the penalties. Now last week, we still had two penalties on the first drive. We overcame them. We scored a field goal. We had a chance to score a touchdown, but a penalty took us away out of the red zone area," quarterback Brad Johnson said. "More than anything, every play is scripted because we run it in practice, we've talked about it, we've watched it on film, we've repeated it in walk-throughs. Every play is scripted over and over again.

"It's impressive what we've done on the first four drives of games. It's been very impressive what we've done in two-minute drills, either at the end of the half, or at the end of games by winning two out of four games. We've done some very good things. I don't want to get away from that, but if we can just eliminate the penalties and negative plays we'll be all right."

The Vikings have been one of the most penalized teams in the league, but for whatever reason, the first drives of games generally have been some of the most impressive.

But Johnson also alluded to the Vikings' ability to move the ball at the end of games as well.

In Washington, the Vikings used an 11-play, 54-yard drive that ended with one minute left on the clock and Ryan Longwell kicking a 31-yard, game-winning field goal. Their nine points off the first and last drive accounted for more than half of their 16 points in that season-opening win.

At the end of regulation against Carolina, the Vikings were presented an opportunity to win the game after taking over with 1:45 to play and the score tied, 13-13. They picked up one first down but ultimately couldn't win in regulation. However, on their first drive of overtime they sealed the deal with a 10-play, 78-yard drive to get into position for Longwell's 19-yard game-winner.

The Vikings weren't able to find that same kind of game-ending magic in their next two losses, but against Buffalo on Sunday they were still able to move the ball from their 17-yard line to the Bills 16-yard line before time expired without them taking a final shot at the end zone in a 17-12 loss.

"Obviously there's a sense of urgency to score points," Johnson said of the ability to move the ball at the end of halves. "You're dealing with the time clock, dealing with scoring points, whether it's field goals or touchdowns at those critical times. We've been successful for the most part in the first four games in those situations. We can't really put our finger on one particular thing."

So what happens to the Vikings between their impressive opening and closing drives? Johnson said the Washington and Carolina defenses did more switching up, yet those were in winning efforts for the Vikings.

"We got more looks in those two games than you'd see in 10 games with Washington and Carolina. It's unbelievable all the different fronts and coverages, the different kind of combination coverages that we got. I think we picked up the blitz fairly well the first four weeks," Johnson said. "I think we've done a great job as far as installing that in practice and the carrying that over to games."

LOOSELY SCRIPTED

Head coach Brad Childress said he likes to script out the first 15 plays of a game when he has more time to think in his office, but there are only so many that can be scripted and retained during the game.

The only thing that I'll say about a script is you do that in the quiet of your office, that's kind of why you do it," he said. "Now, shoot, I could sit and script 15, and then 15 more and then 15 more and then 15 more. Then you have to see how the game is getting played and how it changes. They're all good thoughts when you're sitting in there on a Friday night or Saturday and you're putting this motion in this play, but you have to see in fact what it is you can do as the game goes on and how does the game change."

Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said that while the scripting is useful, it's not a hard and fast regimen. The script is fluid, based on the down and distance and how the defense reacts to certain motions or formations.

A JONES FOR ROD

Johnson was playing quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when Rod Marinelli, now the head coach of the Lions, was the defensive line coach in Tampa. Even though they were involved in different aspects of the team, the two became close over their four years of working together.

"Rod Marinelli's one of the coaches that, even though we were together, he's the one coach that I always wanted to play for," Johnson said. "You saw what he did with the defensive line there over time, what he did within the group and what he did with individuals. He's an awesome person and he'd be great to play for. Obviously they haven't got off to the start that they want, but I only see greatness for him and that team.

"It's just his personality, it's the way he deals with individuals. It's the way he deals with, the way he manages people, the way he manages situations. He's got a heart of gold and is a tremendous person."

It seems Johnson's respect for the personal side of Marinelli is as much or more than the coaching side.

"He's always a guy, he took extra time with individuals," Johnson said. "He would reach down in your soul and try to find something special out of you. Sometimes he would leave a note in your locker, even though he wasn't coaching that individual. Sometimes he would leave a note in your locker saying, ‘Hey, we're going to need something special out of you this week. Just whatever it may be, he always had his thumb on the pulse of the team."

When asked about Johnson, Marinelli returned the bouquet.

"I have unbelievable respect for him, I really do. I think he's really good. I was with him for a few years in Tampa and the guy can buy time as well as any quarterback," Marinelli said. "He's a lot like (Jon) Kitna to me. He gets those deep drops and he knows how to work up into the pocket. So we have to be great on the internal pressure – pushing him back and the ends closing. If we end up behind this guy and allow him to buy time, that's when he starts picking you apart. He's so accurate - he has a low delivery but he has really good accuracy - good running game with it. "

Childress also got into the complimenting when talking about Johnson this week: "He has (been a winner) and his record shows that, and I think more than anything else he generally has regard for the football. He respects the football and usually takes care of it. As a quarterback you touch it 70 times and sometimes things are going to happen. But, he does a great job in respecting the football."

BAND OF BEAT-UP BROTHERS

The Vikings have gone through the weeks with a number of starters banged up. Antoine Winfield (thigh), Ryan Longwell (strep throat), Ben Leber (knee) and Darren Sharper (quad) have all been working through injuries, raising the question about the wisdom of playing them vs. waiting for another week of rest with the team's bye next weekend.

"I understand it's a long season and you can't put anybody out there if they can't defend themselves, so that's always the first thing. You look and see, you want the guy to be able to give a great accounting for himself," Childress said. "By the same token, those guys work to get back. It's what they do, and they want to play and they work hard to rehab to get out onto the football field. These guys are gladiators. When there are 53 guys, you're letting your teammate down if you're not up. It's not like you just go grab somebody else. So there's great peer pressure in the locker room to get yourself there so you're not letting down that unit. When you have a culture like that where people are pushing, it's real easy for a guy to put his hand in and say, ‘I'm a little banged up.' Well, you know what? Everybody is banged up. As it goes, people are even more banged up and they're trying to make it to that Sunday."

21-SACK SALUTE

Former Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper hasn't been able to negotiate better than a 1-3 record so far this season in Miami, where he helped maneuver an off-season trade. Culpepper isn't laying his 21 sacks on being limited in mobility after undergoing surgery last year to repair three torn ligament in his knee, but he acknowledged he is feeling the effects of those sacks.

"You definitely feel it, because you get hit a lot. That's just football," he said. "It doesn't worry me at all because I know we're going to get it right. I'm very positive about that because I know what we can do. I know it, I've seen it. We just have to do it on a consistent basis."

Culpepper almost invited opposing defenses to blitz him more.

"We just have to continue to do what we've been doing. The blitzes really haven't been able to get to us. It's not when teams blitz us when they get to us. It's the base offense stuff that teams are getting to us and we're not able to execute our game plan," he said. "When a team blitzes, I get the ball out of my hand quick, read the hot-reads and we're on the go. We just have to be consistent for 60 minutes, not just in those situations."

Despite taking five sacks in a 17-15 loss to Houston last Sunday, Culpepper didn't throw any interceptions and had a touchdown toss. Those whose job it is to analyze film say it was Culpepper's best performance of the season.

However, Culpepper was added to Thursday's injury report with an unspecified right shoulder problem.

NOTES

The Carolina Panthers signed former Vikings linebacker Rod Davis to their 53-man roster Thursday.

The Kansas City Chiefs worked out former Packers cornerback Ahmad Carroll on Thursday. There have been rumors of the Vikings' interest in Carroll as well.



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