Johnson has Vikings focused on winning

Rocked by injury and scandal, Vikings get lift from veteran QB

December 22, 2005|By BRENT JONES | BRENT JONES,SUN REPORTER

As Brad Johnson reflects on how he helped right a Minnesota Vikings team that had all but run amok, the veteran quarterback essentially gives a summation of his league-wide reputation.

Johnson, never known for having the strongest of arms or the flashiest of statistics, has started seven games for an injured Daunte Culpepper, relying on a steady hand and smart decisions in leading the team to six wins.

"Really, I'm just trying to make the correct read, put us in the right position, make the right run check, make the right pass check and score when we get in the red zone. We've done a good job with that," Johnson said.

Johnson is in his second stint with the Vikings, deciding to sign to back up Culpepper after no starting jobs became available this past offseason.

Culpepper had been largely injury-free in his seven-year career, so when he was lost for the season Oct. 30 against the Carolina Panthers - with the team still in the aftermath of an embarrassing sex scandal on a boat involving several players - the Vikings looked on the verge of an unprecedented collapse.

But Johnson, as has been his way throughout his 14 years in the league, rallied the team by cutting down on the mistakes. Johnson has thrown four interceptions - including two in his lone loss Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers - compared to 12 by Culpepper in the first seven games.

Culpepper also was sacked 31 times, 11 more than Johnson.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre was tossing balls all over the field with reckless abandon in his team's loss Monday night, but Ravens players expect the gunslinging to be replaced by game managing with Johnson under center this week.

"He understands how to manage the game the proper way, not taking too many chances and taking what the defense gives you," Ravens linebacker Bart Scott said. "Sometimes, when you're a younger quarterback who has the physical skills and attributes Daunte Culpepper has, you rely sometimes on your physical ability - his ability to thread a ball in or break a tackle and buy time with his feet.

"With a guy like Brad Johnson, he can't make those same plays. So he relies more on his mind. Not saying one is better than the other, but you have to know what you do well and take advantage. And that's his strength, managing the game."

In the eight games Johnson has played since subbing for Culpepper, he has thrown for more than 200 yards just twice. But Johnson has recorded triple-digit quarterback ratings three times and completed better than 60 percent of his passes on five occasions.

The Vikings are now in a wild-card logjam with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons. With a couple of wins and some help, Johnson, who spent four years with the Buccaneers, leading them to a Super Bowl title after the 2002 season, might edge his former team out of the postseason.

Vikings coach Mike Tice admittedly never thought of such a scenario heading into the season.

"We wanted to sign him because Daunte runs the ball, plays hard, and you always have to have a contingency plan if he gets nicked and misses a game or two," Tice said. "Of course, we didn't think we would lose Daunte for the season, but he's really sustained us and done a great job."

Tice was referencing Johnson's quarterback play, but Johnson has not backed down from the media in dealing with some of the Vikings' off-the-field issues as well.

Mercifully for Minnesota, the playoff push has put the boat incident - in which four players, including Culpepper, were charged with indecent conduct, disorderly conduct, and lewd or lascivious conduct - to the background.

"What happened with the whole boat thing, it's unfortunate it took place, but we bounced back as an organization, as individuals," Johnson said. "And we've put that behind us. Everyone wants to know about it, but we've put that behind us."

The Vikings were able to do so because they are winning, something Johnson deserves as much credit for as anyone.

"I come back here, and it's full circle," said Johnson, who was a ninth-round draft choice by the Vikings in 1992. "[Culpepper] goes down, and it plays out that way. It's strange how things work out but you've got to work hard and think you will get the opportunity at some point."

Note -- Ravens cornerback Dale Carter (back), tight end Darnell Dinkins (ankle), return specialist B.J. Sams (knee), linebacker Mike Smith (thigh) and tight end Daniel Wilcox (ankle) are questionable for Sunday night's game.brent.jones@baltsun.com

Vikings@Ravens Sunday, 8:30 p.m., ESPN, 1300 AM, 102.7 FM Line: Ravens by 3

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