Anyone who watched Daunte Culpepper in the Vikings' 21-14 loss to Carolina in Week 3 could see this was not the same quarterback who led the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game in his first season as a starter in 2000.
Culpepper was intercepted four times — all passes intended for Randy Moss — and finished 19 of 30 for 191 yards and one touchdown. The problem is this was not an isolated incident of one poor game.
In this case, the numbers don't lie.
Through three games, Culpepper's quarterback rating is 71.1, placing him 15th of the 18 passers rated in the NFC statistics. He has been responsible for 10 turnovers, and that does not include a ball he simply dropped while scrambling against the Panthers. Culpepper has fumbled the ball six times in the past two games and lost three of them.
He was the big reason the Vikings are minus-7 in turnover ratio, placing them among the worst in the NFL in that category.
So, what's the problem? Culpepper's protection has been inconsistent, a fact coach Mike Tice cited after the Carolina game, saying, "I felt like the quarterback was never able to get himself into any type of rhythm."
The absence of tight ends Jim Kleinsasser and Byron Chamberlain — integral parts of the offense — against Carolina also didn't help.
But Culpepper appeared to lack confidence in his passes, overthrowing and underthrowing receivers far too frequently. In an attempt to adhere to the much-talked-about Randy Ratio, Culpepper often seemed to lock in on Moss and forget about other options, such as D'Wayne Bates and Derrick Alexander.
"I feel like there were some decisions that I wish he would have made better," Tice said of Culpepper. "But he's no different, except for the fact that he's the quarterback and has the ball in his hands more and it's more glaring. He's no different than some of our other players that have made some mistakes.
"Unfortunately, the turnovers seem to be haunting him and we need to eliminate the turnovers. I don't think right now the Randy Ratio is what we should be talking about. I think right now we should be talking about the turnover ratio because frankly we're terrible at it. That's what's causing us to lose football games."
Culpepper knows the importance of cutting down on the mistakes. "I'm just going to study the opponents like I have always done," he said. "I know the game plan. I'm going to be very situationally conscious of what is going on every down, just try to make sure I can eliminate the possibility of turnovers sometimes. But turnovers are going to happen, and that's not going to get me down. I'm still positive about this thing."
As far as a lack of confidence, Culpepper brushed off a suggestion that he might have some doubt in his mind.
"Not really," he said. "There are no doubts. That is why a couple of times if it's pretty close I'm going to throw the ball if I feel that Randy or any other receiver can get to it. But I'm definitely going to be very smart and aware of trying not to turn the ball over. That's one thing that can stick out in a loss. I just want to take care of the ball better."
While Tice seemed to back away from the Randy Ratio, Culpepper still likes the idea of 40 percent of his passes going toward the receiver. "We are going to continue to try to do that, but we just have to find different ways," Culpepper said. "We have to get the ball to other guys, too, to open up the defense. … Other guys have to step up and make plays, including myself. We just have to do a better job all-around."
The Fox television cameras caught a frustrated Culpepper throwing his helmet and yelling at Moss after the quarterback threw his third interception of the Carolina game in the third quarter.
Fox, which also caught Cris Carter's sideline meltdown during the Vikings' loss at Chicago last season, showed the incident several times. ESPN picked up on it the next day, airing a piece on "SportsCenter."
Tice and Culpepper, however, weren't biting.
"I didn't really react to it at all," Tice said. "It was a matter of those two guys, Daunte being the quarterback making the comment to Randy. Randy and I were talking through the situation at the time actually and it was really a one blurt deal where he yelled something out and Randy didn't comment back because Randy and I were talking through the actual route progression.
"Later on in the game, I walked over to Randy and Daunte, who were talking through the reads on some routes. I don't think either one of those two guys made a big deal about it, nor did I. I think that was ESPN or Fox or somebody who made a big deal about it. We certainly haven't made a big deal about it."
Said Culpepper: "Randy and I are very close. We expect a lot out of each other and it was just frustration and everything. But everybody is making a big deal out of it, that's really no reason to make a big deal out of it."
Cornerback Tyrone Carter also was unfazed by the incident.
"I don't think it will have any effect," he said. "[Culpepper] is competitive. Daunte is the leader of the team, and as you see, when things aren't right, you want everybody to be on the same page with him. That's just competitiveness. He's the leader of this team and we respect that.
"We don't look down upon him. He expects us to go out and do our best. You're going to be frustrated when things aren't going right. … But, as a team, we know we haven't been playing to our potential. So guys are kind of frustrated."
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