Culpepper moves back into starting role in time for return to Minnesota

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- One thing that has gone right for Daunte Culpepper this season is timing.

When Oakland starting quarterback Josh McCown broke his toe earlier this season, it came in time to give Culpepper his first start with the Raiders in Miami against the team that released him earlier in the summer.

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Now that a thigh injury and poor play have cost McCown his job for a second time this season, Culpepper moves back into the starting role in time to face his original NFL team, the Minnesota Vikings.

"When you go to a place that you played before obviously emotion is going to be a part of it," Culpepper said Wednesday. "But the main thing is I have to try to keep an even keel even though I know it's going to be crazy. But I'm looking forward to it."

Culpepper harnessed his emotions perfectly against the Dolphins on Sept. 30, throwing two touchdown passes and running for three scores in a 35-17 victory. After one touchdown, a jubilant Culpepper rose, tapped his surgically repaired right knee and signaled "OK" to the crowd. He danced off the field after another score and thoroughly enjoyed beating the team that released him after one season.

Culpepper's ties to Minnesota are much deeper, having spent the first seven years of his career with the Vikings. He made three Pro Bowls during his tenure there and lead Minnesota to the NFC championship game following the 2002 season.

After being cheered after so many touchdown passes he threw to Randy Moss while with the Vikings, Culpepper is ready for a different reaction on Sunday.

"I know the people in Minnesota love good football," he said. "I had a great time when I was up there but I'm here now. When we step in there I know it's going to be loud and crazy."

Culpepper moves back into the starting role after backing up McCown the previous two weeks. McCown struggled in his two games back as the starter and is also slowed by a bruised thigh that held him out of practice on Wednesday. If he isn't healthy enough to back up Culpepper on Sunday, No. 1 overall pick JaMarcus Russell could move into the No. 2 spot and possibly be in position to get in for a few plays for the first time.

But for now, the Raiders are going with Culpepper.

"I just felt after watching film and putting everything together, felt it was time to go with Daunte and see if he can give us a little spark," coach Lane Kiffin said. "It's nothing against Josh. Neither quarterback playing over the last month has done much for us offensively, obviously. We haven't produced anything close to what we would like to do. So we'll see if Daunte can give us a little spark this week going back to a place he was at for a long time."

In five games this season, Culpepper has completed 56 percent of his passes for 817 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions. He lost his past three starts, committing six turnovers and throwing two touchdown passes.

Kiffin said earlier this season that Culpepper is not as comfortable taking snaps from center, which hindered Oakland's running game. Even some of the Vikings said they see a different quarterback than the one who shined for so long in Minnesota.

"He still looks kind of hesitant," Vikings defensive lineman Pat Williams said. "I don't think he's full tilt yet. I don't think he's full speed yet. He looked kind of hesitant on that knee."

Culpepper threw for 20,162 yards and 135 touchdown passes with the Vikings, becoming one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. His best season came in 2004, when he threw for 4,717 yards and 39 touchdowns in his final season with Moss.

Minnesota second-year quarterback Tarvaris Jackson closely watched Culpepper before making it to the NFL.

"I pretty much watched all the quarterbacks, but he was one of the guys I liked to watch play because he was very exciting when he was running the football and throwing the ball up to Moss and Cris Carter and those guys," Jackson said. "I always liked to watch those guys and it was very exciting to watch the Vikings play."

Culpepper struggled before a serious knee injury ended his season in 2005, throwing 12 interceptions and only six touchdowns as the Vikings got off to a 2-5 start.

New Vikings coach Brad Childress traded Culpepper to Miami during the offseason, and later accused him of being greedy and self-centered. Culpepper also clashed with Vikings management over his contract and his insistence on rehabilitating his knee at home in Florida, rather than in Minneapolis.

The Vikings (3-6) are less concerned with Culpepper's reaction than in bouncing back from a 34-0 loss last week to Green Bay.

"I don't know how it's going to be for him," said Minnesota tight end Jim Kleinsasser, who played seven seasons with Culpepper. "We'll see how it goes fan-wise. There's a lot of stuff going on with that, but it's a game and we have to take care of our business and get out of the doghouse here."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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