FOXBORO, Mass. -- Daunte Culpepper has led the Minnesota Vikings to a 3-0 record, and he's just getting started.
The New England Patriots may soon be finished.
The 266-pound Culpepper, built like a linebacker but shifty like a running back, threw for 177 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 59 yards as the Vikings won 21-13 Sunday in his third game as an NFL starter.
"He's a second-year quarterback," New England linebacker Tedy Bruschi said. "He just takes off when he doesn't see what he likes. That's what makes him so dangerous."
Dangerous enough to hand the Patriots (0-3) their third close loss heading into road games at Miami and Denver, where they haven't fared well.
"It's a big hole to dig out of," quarterback Drew Bledsoe said.
So was a 21-7 halftime deficit and New England couldn't do it, even though the Pats controlled Culpepper for most of the second half. That's because Minnesota's defense sacked Bledsoe on third-and-9 with about three minutes left, forcing a punt, and on fourth-and-7 at the Vikings 14 with 54 seconds remaining.
"It was kind of odd in the first half, because our offense held the ball so long we weren't on the field that much," Vikings free safety Orlando Thomas said. "Eventually, we were able to get into the game and get into the flow of things."
Minnesota's first two possessions covered 17 plays and 16 plays and ended in touchdowns on a 4-yard run by Robert Smith and a 1-yard pass from Culpepper to Johnny McWilliams. The Patriots had tied the game 7-7 on Kevin Faulk's 2-yard run late in the first quarter.
The Vikings also scored on their third series, as Culpepper connected with Matthew Hatchette for a 39-yard touchdown. With Culpepper's running ability, the Vikings appeared to confuse the Patriots defense.
"I hope we did," Hatchette said. "That was the game plan. We had two tight ends, three receivers and other things to keep them off balance."
The Patriots adjusted at halftime, but managed only Bledsoe's 8-yard scoring pass to Terry Glenn with 11:11 left in the game. The extra-point attempt failed when Lee Johnson fumbled the snap. Then the Patriots had one last chance with a first-and-10 at the Minnesota 17 with 1:30 remaining.
But on fourth-and-7, Bledsoe was sacked by Bryce Paup, leaving Bill Belichick winless as Patriots coach.
"I've got to get rid of the ball and get it some place and give us a chance to make a play," Bledsoe said.
Unlike Bledsoe, Culpepper can make them by running and that helped Minnesota hold the ball for 39:08.
"I think us moving the pocket was a big thing in the first half," Culpepper said. "They were trying to contain me. And when they blitzed outside, I was able to stay in the pocket."
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