Coaches, Teammates Defend Johnson

Although quarterback Brad Johnson has had poor showings in each of the Vikings' last two losses, his head coach and his teammates say there is more to the offensive struggles than mistakes at quarterback.

Two weeks after appearing as if it had gotten on track, the Vikings' offense has returned to its early-season ways. And that isn't a good thing if you're Brad Childress.

The Vikings' coach and chief play-caller saw his offense account for 24 of his team's 31 points in an impressive victory on Oct. 22 at Seattle. But in back-to-back losses to New England and the 49ers, the offense did not score a touchdown and quarterback Brad Johnson struggled to hang onto the ball.

Johnson threw three interceptions in the Patriots defeat and was benched in favor of Brooks Bollinger in the fourth quarter. On Sunday, Johnson threw another pick and fumbled twice after taking hits from his blind side.

Johnson wasn't benched this time by Childress — "you've got to protect the football, but I didn't think it was a decision-making issue," Childress said in explaining his call to leave the veteran in the game — but the coach clearly isn't happy with what he's seeing.

The two defeats put the Vikings at .500 (4-4) at the halfway point of the season, and the loss at San Francisco has to be viewed as one of the season's worst setbacks. The 49ers entered the game having given up an NFL-high 235 points and had trailed Chicago 41-0 at halftime of their previous game.

The San Francisco game also started a stretch in which the Vikings will face sub-.500 teams for four weeks. On Sunday, Minnesota will play host to Green Bay, before traveling to Miami and then taking on woeful Arizona at the Metrodome.

But an inability to move the ball with any consistency against San Francisco definitely will give the Packers, Dolphins and Cardinals plenty of hope.

"It is surprising," safety Darren Sharper said of the loss to the 49ers. "I don't know how to explain it. When you come in on Sundays you have to know that each team you play is going to give you your best shot and if you don't match their performance you end up like we did today."

Childress does not appear on the verge of making a quarterback change to Bollinger or second-round pick Tarvaris Jackson, but clearly the Vikings need more from their veteran leader. So far this season, Johnson has eight interceptions and four touchdown passes.

In nine starts last season, he threw 12 touchdowns and only four interceptions. Johnson also has posted quarterback ratings of 38.1 and 63.4 in his past two starts.

Fullback Tony Richardson, however, made it clear he and his teammates stand behind Johnson.

"He's the quarterback and that's why he'll stand up as a man and say, ‘Hey, I'll take it,'" Richardson said. "But the guys on offense know it's not Brad."

"Obviously, when you're the quarterback or whatever, he's the guy who has to take the brunt of it. But for me to stand here, there is no way in the world he deserves the brunt of this. There were opportunities out there, he got the ball to some guys and we didn't make the plays."

NOTES

  • LG Steve Hutchinson missed two plays in the first half Sunday after spraining his right knee and ankle. Hutchinson was able to return and play the rest of the game. He will be evaluated on Monday.

  • DE Darrion Scott suffered a high left ankle sprain in the fourth quarter and was in a walking boot after the game. He will have an MRI performed Monday.

  • FB Tony Richardson injured his right hand will see a specialist on Monday. Richardson indicated he was fine.

  • MLB Napoleon Harris missed Sunday's game because of a dislocated left wrist. Coach Brad Childress put no timetable on when Harris might return. Third-year linebacker Dontarrious Thomas got the start in place of Harris.

  • WR Marcus Robinson sat out a second consecutive game Sunday because of a lower-back injury.


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