Even a quarterback as talented as Daunte Culpepper would have a hard time salvaging the Minnesota Vikings’ season. Now, he won’t even get a chance to.
Culpepper tore the anterior cruciate, medial collateral and posterior cruciate ligaments in his right knee in a 38-13 loss to the Carolina Panthers last Sunday.
Culpepper will have surgery, and the Vikings are anticipating that he will be ready for the 2006 season. It’s possible, though, that the 28-year-old could be out longer if further damage is discovered during the operation.
“Whether it’s on the field, in the locker room, practice—he’s a guy that’s definitely been the leader, true leader, of this team,” Vikings safety Darren Sharper said. “We’ll have to have other guys step up and fill that void.”
The loss of Culpepper, a three-time Pro Bowl pick whose effectiveness had fallen off dramatically this year due to several factors, further demoralizes a struggling team already stuck in the middle of a big mess.
The Vikings were widely considered one of the best teams in the NFC at the beginning of the year, but they’ve endured two miserable months. Still-unresolved allegations of sexual misconduct by several players on a boat party earlier this month darkened a season that was already deteriorating.
After watching offensive coordinator Scott Linehan leave, trading star receiver Randy Moss and losing injured Pro Bowl center Matt Birk for the season, a once-mighty offense has fallen hard. Culpepper was under constant pressure behind a leaky offensive line and bothered by pre-existing soreness in the knee.
“This is just another hurdle we have to overcome,” Vikings coach Mike Tice said.
Johnson, who played for the Vikings from 1992-98 and returned to his original team this year, will be the starter. Untested Shaun Hill moves up to second string.
Johnson is not nearly as nimble as Culpepper, but the 37-year-old has a Super Bowl ring from 2002 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the respect of his team.
“The most important thing is just be yourself,” he said. “You can’t fake it. The proof is putting up points. The proof is winning ballgames.”
Detroit, meanwhile, will also have a different starting quarterback this week.
Garcia missed the first five games because of a broken left leg suffered in Detroit’s final preseason game. He led Detroit to a 13-10 win at Cleveland two weeks ago, but is questionable for Sunday’s game after taking several hard hits in a 19-13 overtime loss to division-leading Chicago last weekend.
“Jeff didn’t feel well enough to think that by Sunday he is going to be able to run around and do all those things he likes to do,” coach Steve Mariucci said. “That is how it looks right now.”
Wide receiver Charles Rogers returns this week after a four-game suspension, but Mariucci has been noncommittal about playing time for the No. 2 overall pick in the 2003 draft.
“We’re going to have competition at the receiver spots, because we are looking for a receiver or two or three that will step up and make some plays,” he said. “This is all performance-based. We’ll see how Charles does in practice, and then we will decide if we are going to activate him and what role he will play for us.”
Detroit has lost seven straight in Minneapolis since a 14-13 win on Dec. 14, 1997.