Daunte Culpepper's lost season took a detour in Alabama this week.
The ailing Dolphins quarterback merely planned to have a checkup with James Andrews, the famed orthopedic surgeon who reconstructed his right knee just over a year ago. Culpepper had missed seven consecutive games with pain in the knee, so he sought out Andrews' opinion on Wednesday.
That opinion led to an operation. Andrews performed an arthroscopic procedure Thursday to remove cartilage behind Culpepper's kneecap.
A glance at the calendar leads to a simple equation: knee operation plus five weeks remaining equals season over.
Dolphins coach Nick Saban, however, wants to challenge that formula.
Even though Joey Harrington has been the team's starter since the season's fourth game, Saban said that Culpepper could return before 2006 expires.
"This is not a real serious type of thing. We'll take it slow with him," Saban said. "We'll bring him back. It will not affect his roster status right now. It does not affect his future here. I think it probably actually makes me and him feel — I haven't talked to Daunte yet because we've been out to practice — but it probably makes us both feel a little better that at least we knew there was a solution to that issue."
If and when he does return, Culpepper might serve as a backup to Harrington. If he were 100 percent healthy, however, Culpepper could make a case that he deserves to reclaim his job.
In the four games he played to open the season, Culpepper posted a 77.0 passer rating. He completed 60.4 percent of his passes and threw two touchdown passes and three interceptions.
In Harrington's seven starts, he has compiled a 71.6 passer rating. He has completed 58.5 percent of his passes and thrown 10 TD passes and 11 interceptions.
The one stat that weighs most heavily in Harrington's favor comes with an asterisk. Culpepper was sacked a ridiculous 21 times in his four starts, but he maintains his knee was bothering him throughout. Harrington has been sacked just eight times.
If the Dolphins (5-6) truly believe Culpepper can regain the form he once displayed in Minnesota, rushing him back this year in a futile drive for a wild-card spot would be an unnecessary risk.
Culpepper's Season Could Be Over
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