Lewis Kelly rejoined the Vikings Monday after taking a couple of weeks to mourn the death of his wife, Rakiva. The offensive tackle had tried to return shortly after Rakiva's death but decided he needed more time. The Vikings gave Kelly their full support and were able to get a special two-week roster exemption from the NFL.
"I realized I was doing everything for everybody else," Kelly said of his first attempt to return. "I was being strong for her parents; I was being strong for my parents. I came back because everyone was like, ‘Go back, go back.' I didn't take time to deal with it myself. I wouldn't have had my mind focused on football. I'd have been out there going through the motions. I had to get to a point where I could concentrate on football."
At one point, the Vikings thought Kelly might retire or take the season off.
"If I was a Pro Bowl player, had been in the league a while and had a lot of money under my belt, I probably wouldn't have come back this year," he said. "But I guess I felt I shouldn't stay out. I should try to see the season through. I put in a lot of hard work. … I wanted to try to play it out. I think I can focus on my job."
Kelly expressed his appreciation for all the support he has received from his teammates and the organization.
"It's great to have him back," Culpepper said. "We definitely still feel bad for him and his family. We can't really feel what they are feeling, but for him to be a part of our family we feel bad for him. But at the same time, he can help us."
Indeed, Kelly was named the starter at left tackle against the Panthers. "He looked very good," Tice said after Wednesday's practice. Kelly will start Sunday, but he will split time with Everett Lindsay.
Jim Kleinsasser did not think much about the pain he experienced in his right leg early in the Buffalo game. He certainly didn't appear to be slowed by it, catching six passes for 56 yards.
However, Kleinsasser and the Vikings later learned the tight end had suffered a small fracture in his right leg.
The timing could not have been worse. Kleinsasser was off to a strong start, having caught 11 passes for 114 yards in the first two games and also throwing several key blocks on running plays.
Kleinsasser was the second Vikings tight end to be injured in as many games. Byron Chamberlain suffered a sprained knee against the Bears in the season opener and was unable to play against Buffalo.
As a result, Hunter Goodwin is seeing his role increased, with Matt Cercone also seeing action.
Daunte Culpepper struggled at times in the Vikings' opening two losses, throwing a key interception in Week 1 that led to the Bears' winning touchdown and then losing three fumbles against Buffalo. Bills defensive lineman Ron Edwards recovered one of them in the end zone for a touchdown.
Tice defended his quarterback a day after the loss.
"He's a young player, he's a player that has great passion for the game, he's a player that is trying so hard to do things right for the football team and he will have to work through that and learn that sometimes you have to take the sack and sometimes you just got to not get the first down," Tice said.
Told Tice said he was trying too hard, Culpepper did not disagree. "That could be the case sometimes, but I'm always looking for a big play," he said. "I'm a big-play guy. You have to want to make big plays for them to happen sometimes."
Culpepper also knows a victory would remove much of the self-applied pressure.
"We just want to get this first win and start a streak," he said. "We need to get some winning streaks around here. I'm used to having a winning streak and it just hasn't happened. Last year and starting this year we have to get on some winning streaks and end the losing streaks."
On the bench
Michael Bennett found himself on the sideline during the loss to Buffalo after the running back was called for a third-quarter holding penalty that erased a 40-yard touchdown catch by Randy Moss.
"You guys know how emotional I get," Tice said. "When we had the holding call that called back the touchdown, I got a little annoyed with the player and decided to take him out. … That's just the way it goes."
Moe Williams finished as the Vikings' leading rusher with 102 yards on 17 carries against Buffalo, but Tice said Bennett remains the starter.
However, it has become clear Williams and Doug Chapman are going to get plenty of carries this season.
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