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With Culpepper rolling, doubters green with envy

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Minnesota Vikings coach Dennis Green should gloat. His quarterback, Daunte Culpepper, should feel vindicated.

Not many backed either of them before the Vikings turned heads in their 30-27 victory over the Chicago Bears in Week 1. Culpepper, believed to be the biggest quarterback in NFL history at 6 feet 4, 255 pounds, ran for three touchdowns and passed for 190 yards to wipe away any dissension for not re-signing Jeff George.

But how long will it last?

The Vikings didn't beat the "Monsters of the Midway" and now they face a more physical defense in the Miami Dolphins.

Unlike the Bears, the Dolphins could play single coverage with cornerbacks Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain on Vikings receivers Randy Moss and Cris Carter. That would eliminate a lot of the running lanes for Culpepper, who'll be forced to win with his arm and quick reads.

"Miami will probably blitz and bring the house," said Culpepper, who was only 13 of 23 passing. "That's when we have the one-on-one matchups and we can go down the field."

The Dolphins can intimidate young quarterbacks. Just ask the Seahawks' Jon Kitna, who was hit hard in the pocket and pressured into throwing four interceptions.

Still, the Dolphins acknowledged that Culpepper forces a different game plan.

"Anytime you have a guy with his size and strength, you're not going to arm tackle him," Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt said. "Our defensive line has good athletes up front. It will be a good challenge for us."

Not a Manning fan

Raiders defensive tackle Darrell Russell's first attempt at sacking the Colts' Peyton Manning came with little success.

"You can get into Manning's head," Russell told Oakland reporters. "Although a lot of people pump him up and he's one of the premier quarterbacks, if you look at his track record, he can't really win the big game.

"He never won the SEC [championship at Tennessee]. He didn't win too many bowl games. He never came close to winning a national championship. He never won the big game in college and he hasn't done it now."

Strong words, soft facts.

If Russell had done his homework, he would have discovered that Manning posted a 39-6 record at Tennessee and directed the Volunteers to the SEC title in 1997. Although Manning's Volunteers were roughed up by Nebraska in the 1998 Orange Bowl for the national title, he led Tennessee to bowl victories the previous three seasons.

Chiefs coach had enough?

Although Kansas City coach Gunther Cunningham said his comments to his team Monday were taken out of context, there's a general rule in NFL that says it's never a good sign when a coach even considers retiring after the first game of the season.

Cunningham reportedly told his players that his wife, Rene, changed his mind about retiring after the season-opening loss to the Colts. While he tried to clear up the matter Wednesday with the team, this situation has to plant doubt in the players' minds whether Cunningham is committed to them.

"When you address the team, and you want them to understand how you felt after a football game, you tell them," Cunningham said. "Everybody has feelings after a game. My god, we didn't get it done. We worked so hard. That was the issue."

Will pair beat Duce?

Is two better than Duce?

That'll be answered today in the NFC East battle between the Giants and Eagles.

The Giants totaled 222 yards rushing last week against the Cardinals alternating between the speedy Tiki Barber (144 yards) and 255-pound force Ron Dayne (78). Meanwhile, the Eagles upset the Cowboys behind the 201-yard rushing performance of Duce Staley, the team's first 200-yard back since 1949.

"The game is going to be man against man," Giants linebacker Jessie Armstead said. "Can they break our will or can we break their will? That's what it's all going to boil down to."

Carpenter bolsters Bills

Keion Carpenter hasn't had the best odds, but he hasn't lost yet.

Carpenter, a Woodlawn High graduate, is the Bills' starting free safety despite trailing in a three-way competition for that spot at the start of camp. If that wasn't enough, he was the only undrafted free agent to make the Bills in 1999.

His debut in the starting lineup proved strong, as he picked off Titans quarterback Steve McNair in the first quarter. The next morning, his first career interception was captured on the front page of the Buffalo News.

Questionable strategy

It's debatable whether Cowboys coach Dave Campo should have been playing receiver Joey Galloway in the final two minutes with Dallas losing by five touchdowns to the Eagles.

Galloway, who was acquired from the Seahawks for two first-round picks, tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on a downfield block. Campo said he wanted to use the fourth quarter for his starters to get their timing down.

Nevertheless, Campo's coaching epitaph is sure to read: Lost a $42.5 million player in 40 minutes of work.

Mighty opinion of 49ers

San Francisco 49ers running back Fred Beasley gave another strong reason why the NFL should be concentrating on handing out more gag orders than fines this season.

"Look for us in the playoffs," Beasley said after the 49ers lost to the Falcons in Week 1. "I think we're going to cause some havoc in the NFC."

Quote of the week

"If I was the quarterback, I'd be licking my chops and I can't even throw." - Browns strong safety Marquis Smith on what his cousin, Bengals quarterback Akili Smith, may be thinking about playing against Cleveland's secondary.

Full blitz

Falcons at Broncos: It's arthroscopic surgeon day at Mile High with a potential race between two surgically repaired running backs, the Falcons' Jamal Anderson and the Broncos' Terrell Davis.

Rams at Seahawks: The over-under on the Seahawks' Kitna getting the hook is a quarter and a half.

Cowboys at Cardinals: There will be more stars nursing injuries on the sidelines than on the field. Count 'em, it's the ESPN game tonight.

Browns at Bengals: Are more fans showing up for the Battle of Ohio or for that new stadium smell?

Chiefs at Titans: The Titans have won their first eight games at Adelphia Coliseum and need a win today against the Chiefs to set an NFL record for best stadium openings. Now, if the Titans can only open up their offense with the same success.

End zone

The Houston Texans unveiled their ordinary name and stylish logo this week. But the team's best move came long ago when it hired Charley Casserly as general manager. ... The Eagles have won three straight by a combined score of 103-54. ... Raiders receiver Andre Rison, who caught the game-winner last week against the Chargers, is the only player in NFL history with a touchdown catch for seven teams. ... Colts receiver Marvin Harrison has 100-yard receiving efforts in five of his past six games. ... The 49ers have won seven consecutive home openers. ... Seahawks running back Ricky Watters has never lost to the Rams, with his teams going 7-0.

Wire reports contributed to this article.

Stat of the week

The St. Louis Rams have scored 30 or more points in seven consecutive games, tying an NFL record with three other teams - 1956 Chicago Bears, 1963 Green Bay Packers and 1968 Cleveland Browns. If the Rams break the 30-point mark today against Seattle, they will take sole possession of the record. A look at those clubs with their record and average points scored over their streaks:

Yr. ...........Club ..............Record ...........PPG

'56 ..........Chicago .............7-0 .............38.1

'68 ..........Cleveland ............7-0 ............37.8

'99-'00 .....St. Louis ............6-1 ............34.8

'63 ..........Green Bay ...........7-0 ............34.0

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