EDEN PRAIRIE -- All quarterbacks face their own challenges, whether it's reading a defense, deftly avoiding a pass rush or learning to lead a team through trying times.
Daunte Culpepper's toughest task might be teaching himself to calm down. He's starting to master it, which is an important element for the Minnesota Vikings' offense.
"He doesn't have to make every play," quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. "It's going to sound like a broken record, but he doesn't."
The league-high 32 turnovers Culpepper produced last year were a huge reason the Vikings went 6-10. In Sunday's season-opening victory at Green Bay, Minnesota forced five turnovers and gave the ball away only twice.
Though both fumbles were his, Culpepper threw three touchdown passes against no interceptions and showed a willingness to accept tight coverage and throw the ball out of bounds that wasn't there in 2002.
"I think we still left some offense out on the field, but at the same time, we didn't have a whole lot of negative plays that put us in bad positions," Culpepper said Wednesday. "So that's the main thing. We want to give our team the best chance to win the game."
What he really means is he's maturing as a quarterback.
"I understand that I don't have to make every play," Culpepper said. "That's why the punter gets paid and defenses get paid to stop them. But when it's there, I've got to be aggressive and make it happen. When it's not there, I have to be patient and throw the ball away."
The temptation to force a throw to Randy Moss, one of the game's great receivers, too often lured Culpepper away from making a smarter play last year -- especially as the intrinsic pressure to reverse the Vikings' struggles mounted.
Moss had nine receptions for 150 yards Sunday, but Culpepper's longest pass was 27 yards. He was 15-for-30, and several of the incompletions were intentionally thrown safely away from trouble.
"I've always supported Daunte through thick and thin," Moss said after Sunday's game. "Daunte knows what he has to do. If it's to make the play with his arm or legs or just throw the ball away, I think he's a very smart quarterback who can make it happen. Whatever he does, I'm fine with it."
Another contributing factor to last season's struggles was shaky pass protection. Linehan believes the passing game is now ahead of the running game, which ranked first in the league last year.
With less pressure in the pocket, Culpepper looked more comfortable roaming around. He rushed nine times for 50 yards, including a key third-down scamper for 17 yards on the Vikings' first possession that kept a touchdown drive alive.
"That wasn't a called play," Linehan said. "You've got to be able to make a decision. Throwing the ball away is one of the decisions he's got to have. The other decision is, 'Can I scramble and make a play?' And when it's there, 'What do I do?"'
Culpepper did lose two fumbles, one on a designed third-down run that could've clinched the win. The Packers drove the other way for a touchdown that pulled them within five points.
The Vikings chalked the fumbles up to flukes, though.
"I just have to make a conscious effort to make sure I hold onto the ball better," Culpepper said. "All this week, I'll be practicing holding onto the ball and make sure I don't put it on the ground."
The offensive linemen are grateful to have a quarterback with such passion for success. They're equally happy to see him improve his poise.
"From what I have seen, he has matured as a player quite a bit," guard Chris Liwienski said. "He is sharper now than I have ever seen him in the past."
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