QB Controversy? Maybe Not Yet

The fans have spoken -- at least those at the Metrodome Sunday. The talking heads and print media are in the process of speaking. About what? Starting a QB controversy that may not exist. While Mike Tice didn't commit to starting Daunte Culpepper after pulling him from Sunday's loss, he didn't give an endorsement to Todd Bouman, either.

Welcome to Denny's World, Mike Tice.

As if Tice didn't have enough to worry about – his postgame news conferences trying to explain how an offense can continue to turn the ball over far too often, how a defense can get torched with such ease and how both happen with such frequency.

The saddest part is that, of the teams that the Vikings have played on their way to a 2-7 record, the only one with a legitimate shot at being a playoff contender is Tampa Bay. Buffalo and the Giants may lurk on the outer fringes of potential playoff contention, but even they're pretenders. Consider that, of the remaining seven teams on the schedule each of the next six – Green Bay, New England, Atlanta, Green Bay again, New Orleans and Miami – are all playoff contenders and might all be in the playoffs when they start in January.

With all the ups and downs – mostly downs – of this season, the one thing Tice didn't have was a quarterback controversy. While having an awful statistical year, Daunte Culpepper wasn't injured and Todd Bouman was his backup. While Tice was non-committal about benching Culpepper – who prior to Sunday had never been benched for poor play in his high school, college or pro career – VU is hearing the plan (even before he "sleeps on it.")

The sad reality of the 2002 season is that, as hard as it may be to believe, if the Vikings lose to the Packers Sunday, they not only will be officially eliminated from the division race, they will eliminated from the playoff picture after 10 games. Too many teams with better records will play each other enough times to assure that there would be an 8-8 wild card team with tie-breaker advantages.

To that end, the Twin Cities media has been clamoring for a change. Bench Culpepper. Play Bouman. From what VU is hearing, that likely isn't going to happen. Even if it does, the leash on Bouman will be so short Culpepper may spend the entire Green Bay game warming up.

Culpepper earned this bad day in the spotlight. He completed just nine of 20 passes for 91 yards, found Randy Moss just once for five yards and many of his incompletions weren't able to be caught. He was awful. But, the hook may not be ready to be pulled just yet.

It may seem like a popular idea to throw in Bouman, who received a standing ovation when he came in the game – following two hours of booing from Vikings fans that got louder every time Culpepper returned to the field. Perhaps it was because most of them paid $75 a head to see Culpepper play like a rusty rookie. But, following the game, VU heard from more than one team official that Culpepper will likely remain the starter.

Granted, Bouman completed passes of 48 and 32 yards to Moss, but he had nothing to do with Michael Bennett's 78-yard TD – other than throwing an incompletion to set up a second-and-10 – and he had two fumbles in four possessions. The first resulted in a turnover. The second, in the final two-plus minutes, turned what would have been a fourth-and-10 from midfield down by seven points into a fourth-and-30 that forced the team to punt.

The speculation will be running rampant until Tice makes it official who will be his starter Sunday vs. the Packers. But, VU is already hearing that, barring a change of heart early this week, Tice will stick with Culpepper. He gives the Vikings their best chance to win week in, week out. And, as the losses against the "easy" part of the schedule continue to mount, the season is a lost cause for the playoffs, but one to set the foundation for the future.

Much in the same way Denny Green, the victim of many QB controversies created by the media in his time as the Vikings head man, never saw his first-round investment in Culpepper pay off, neither will Tice if the team keeps losing. Green drafted Culpepper to be a franchise QB – fighting off those who wanted DE Jevon Kearse to help a weak defense – weak by 1999 Vikings standards, not 2002. If Tice benches Culpepper vs. the Packers, he's sending the word out that he has lost confidence in a player he is convinced is the cornerstone of the franchise.

If that confidence goes, Tice may follow after the season. VU has been hearing rumblings from team insiders that this team is ready to burst at the seams and that different standards for different players is causing dissention once again. A QB controversy is the last thing the team needs. While Tice's announcement is said to be that he will stay with Culpepper, if he benches him again, it may be for the rest of the season.

MONDAY NOTES
** The frightening stat of the year. Of the nine opponents the Vikings have played this year, they have a combined record of 34-47. If you take the games they have played against teams other than the Vikings, that record sinks to 27-45. The next six opponents have a combined record of 38-15-1. Not a stat the coach will be looking to add to his other ratio numbers.
** VU has been told that struggling CB Eric Kelly will be demoted next week and rookie Brian Williams will get the start. However, when it comes to struggling players in the secondary for the Vikings, you can fill in the name with just about every player on the roster.
** VU is hearing that the offer of $100 million of his own money to finance a stadium offered by Red McCombs is now off the table, as he (rightfully so) doesn't want to commit his own money when it is clear that that is being (or has in principle) already been sold. The problem with McCombs taking that financial offer off the table is two-fold. It could kill a deal for a joint stadium with the University of Minnesota and, if the stadium matter doesn't get through the State Legislature this session, it could also eliminated $51.5 million in NFL G-3 money.
** Bryant McKinnie was expected to play 20-25 plays Sunday. He played 41 downs, including the critical final drive. On that drive, he allowed what myth has said is the first sack of his life. It was a long time in coming, but it was huge – it caused a fumble and resulted in a 20-yard loss.
** Lost in all the controversy Sunday was that the Vikings added defensive end Carl Eller to the team's Ring of Honor Sunday. Many believe if the Vikings had won just one Super Bowl title, Eller, Jim Marshall and a handful of other Vikings from the 1960s and 1970s would be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame already.
** The Vikings ran for a team-high 224 yards, averaging a mammoth 8.6 yards per carry. Even before Bennett's 78-yard TD, the Vikings were still averaging 5.8 yards a rush – making some wonder why the Vikings didn't stick more to the rush since the Giants couldn't stop it with any consistency.
** In a bizarre moment Sunday, recently elected Senator Norm Coleman made an appearance in the Metrodome press box and there were handshakes from several reporters and radio talking heads. But many were taken aback by the reaction of a 106-year-old columnist from a Twin Cities newspaper, who gave Coleman an embrace that lasted a little longer than most expected – or wanted to be witness to. We came to see a football game and an impromtu slow dance at the prom broke out.
** Through nine games, Moe Williams has nine touchdown runs and Culpepper has eight TD passes. Williams tied a franchise record by scoring in his sixth straight game – equaling a mark set by Bill Brown in 1968.
** For the second straight week, Bennett set a personal career rushing high with 167 yards on 15 carries. It was his third straight 100-yard game.
** From the Butt Ugly Department comes this: The Vikings and Giants combined to convert just one of 20 third-down opportunities (aside from those resulting from penalties). Only in the Giants final scoring drive did they convert a third-down into a first down – the G-Men finished 1-of-11. As for the Lavender Hill Mob, they finished the day 0-for-9 – something nearly as frightening as the awkward "Put Your Head on My Shoulder" spotlight dance performed by Coleman and the Ancient Mariner at the unexpected press box dance party.
** Randy Moss' personal milestone of surpassing 6,000 career receiving yards went largely unnorticed Sunday. He became the third-fastest player to reach 6,000 yards – topping the barrier in his 73rd professional game. Only Lance Alworth (61 games) and Jerry Rice (71 games) did it faster.

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