If Culpepper can solve the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the next chapter of Monday Night Football, the NFL will have to take the 4-0 Vikings seriously as a Super Bowl threat.
The defining thing about Culpepper is that despite his talent for running the ball, he'd rather throw it--unlike most young passers, who tend to scramble at the first hint of trouble because the field ahead of them is a baffling sea of strange shapes.
For an emerging new quarterback with multiple talents, Culpepper's edge is vision and maturity.
Buccaneers Rein In Passer
The Minnesota game will be highly-rated and fast-falling Tampa Bay's third in a row on national television, which so far has been a disaster for the Buccaneer team.
One of several preseason Super Bowl favorites, the 3-2 Buccaneers were last seen blowing early-game leads in losing to the New York Jets (21-17 on Sunday night TV) and to the Washington Redskins (20-17 in this week's doubleheader game).
Unfortunately for Tampa Bay, the scores suggest that Coach Tony Dungy has been reining in his young quarterback, Shaun King. When allowed to be a real quarterback, King plays better than his conservative coaches will usually let him play. He proved that again in Washington, where he brought Tampa Bay back from 17-7 to 17-17 and overtime.
But once again, Dungy had allowed an opponent to hang around too long.
After a late fumble beat Tampa Bay a week earlier in the Jet game, a punt return by Deion Sanders did it in the Redskin game.
Can King Catch Culpepper?
Athleticism is a talent that isn't associated with every NFL quarterback, but it's one of the things, along with leadership skills, that link King and Culpepper.
Against the Redskins, for example, King was in the passing pocket when he fumbled briefly ahead of Tampa Bay's two big plays.
The first time, he had the know-how and quickness to snatch the ball off the ground and the wit to throw it downfield to wide receiver Reidel Anthony on the 46-yard touchdown play that got the Buccaneers back in the game.
Next, after the ball was again knocked away, King picked it up again and threw a 19-yard pass to wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson to set up the tying field goal at 17-17.
First to last, his 50-yard field-goal drive showed King to be a worthy rival to Culpepper--with two differences: King is stockier, at 6-0 and 225, and Coach Green lets Culpepper play.