Culpepper is well-armed

Week Seven: Nfl Preview

October 24, 2004|By KEN MURRAY | KEN MURRAY,SUN STAFF

The numbers are monstrous. Eighteen touchdown passes in five games, 1,766 passing yards, better than 72 percent completions.

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper has never played better.

"That's a heck of an offensive football team," New Orleans Saints coach Jim Haslett said, "and I don't know if there's a quarterback that's playing at a higher level than him, or ever played at a higher level than him."

That was after Culpepper burned Haslett's defense for 425 yards and five touchdown passes in a 38-31 shootout win last Sunday night.

No one in the NFL has ever thrown as many as 18 touchdown passes through five games before. Nor has any quarterback ever put together three five-touchdown pass games in one season, as Culpepper already has.

Culpepper's joy ride through the 2004 season is on a record pace that has even captivated Dan Marino. The former Miami Dolphins quarterback holds a 20-year-old league record for touchdown passes (48) and passing yards (5,084) in a season.

Marino was at the Vikings' training facility in Eden Prairie, Minn., to interview Culpepper for CBS-TV last week, when he made this concession: "I love to watch guys play well, especially at that position. But I won't lie to you. I wouldn't be human if I told you I wanted guys to break my records."

With 11 games left, Culpepper is on pace to throw for 58 touchdowns and 5,651 yards. At this rate, he also would set records for completions, completion percentage, passer rating and 300-yard games.

If there is any reason for Marino to be worried, it is this: The Vikings have a wretched defense (again) and Culpepper, 27, could be involved in shootouts every week.

And this: "I think Daunte has grown with the system," said Vikings coach Mike Tice. "He doesn't let a lot bother him. ... When he used to make mistakes, it would bother him, only because that's his persona and his personality. I think now he's letting those things slip away. He's moving on to the next play. I think that's part of the maturity you're seeing in his game."

Two years ago, Culpepper was a turnover machine with 32, including 23 interceptions. He could always revert.

But don't expect it today, when the Vikings play the Tennessee Titans. Culpepper has improved his passing yards total in each of his past four games. The Titans, it should be noted, are No. 26 in pass defense.

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