MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings pushed the timetable on the Daunte Culpepper decision back to Friday.
The cast on Culpepper's right ankle was removed Wednesday and replaced by a walking boot. He said he was optimistic that he can play Sunday at Indianapolis and keep backup Bubby Brister on the bench for the remainder of the season.
"It's a lot better than I thought it would be," Culpepper said. "I'm moving around pretty good. Hopefully, I can play Sunday. If not, I'll be confident that Bubby will be ready."
Coach Dennis Green said the Vikings won't "know anything for sure" until Friday. Even then, it is likely that it would only be determined whether Culpepper has a chance to play and that a final decision would come at game time. Culpepper's status is listed as questionable.
"We just don't have a clue as to how his ankle will respond," Green said. "He wants to play. He's always played. He's never missed a game."
Green faces a conundrum.
The Vikings, who seemed a lock for the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs before losing their last two games, could be forced to play a first-round game on the road if they lose to the Colts. They can assure themselves of a bye by winning, but do they have a better chance with Culpepper, their Pro Bowl quarterback, playing on a sore plant foot, risking further aggravation, or with Brister, who has thrown only two passes this season?
"I have an equal amount of confidence in Daunte or Bubby," said offensive guard Corbin Lacina. "It doesn't matter. Whoever's in the huddle, my responsibility stays the same."
Brister spent the players' day off Tuesday working out and studying film.
"I'm assuming I'm going to go, just in case," Brister said. "Any time you're a backup, you have to get yourself ready. But this week's a little different, because you don't know if Daunte is going to play or not."
Brister boosted his reputation with the Denver Broncos two years ago by stepping in for John Elway during a world championship run, which has prepared him for his possible start on Sunday.
"When we played in Washington a couple of years ago, John was slated to start, and right before the game he couldn't go," Brister said. "And I said, 'Whoa, OK."'
He led the Broncos to a 38-16 victory over the Redskins, becoming the first quarterback other than Elway to start and win for the Broncos since 1989. He completed 16 of 24 passes for 180 yards.
"You have to be ready, especially when you're a backup," Brister said. "You take pride in it and remember what you're trying to accomplish. You go out there and try to move the sticks and score some points and not make any mistakes."
THE VIKINGS SIGNED defensive end Fernando Smith on Wednesday as a possible remedy for the problems against the run.
Smith, who played for the Vikings from 1994-97, gives them a bigger presence in their front seven, at 6-foot-6 and 287 pounds. He will be activated for their game Sunday at Indianapolis.
Smith's role is clearly to be a run-stopper. The Vikings allowed the Rams' Marshall Faulk to rush for 135 yards and the Green Bay Packers' Ahman Green to gain 161 yards rushing the past two weeks and will face the NFL's leading rusher, Edgerrin James, against the Colts.
"We have not played well in run defense," Green said. "In the playoffs, you have to be able to stop the run. You're talking about playing the Saints, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, New York Giants.
PLAYOFF PAYOFF: The Vikings and Colts will have a clearer idea of their playoff scenarios at kickoff, since the majority of NFL will be finished before their 3:15 p.m. start.
"That's something I wouldn't want to know," Vikings offensive guard Corbin Lacina said. "Who's doing what, who's in, who's where. That could be a distraction. I sure hope we don't have TVs on or anything like that."
Said Green: "That's the NFL's sense of humor, again."
PLAYOFF PART II: The Vikings can finish anywhere from the first to fifth seed for the NFC playoffs.
If they beat the Colts, they will earn a first-round bye as the No. 1 seed if the New York Giants lose or as the No. 2 seed if the Giants lose.
The Vikings can lose and still be the No. 2 seed if both New Orleans and Tampa Bay lose. They could fall to a No. 5 seed if both Tampa Bay and Philadelphia win.
As a No. 3 seed, the Vikings would play host to the Buccaneers or Green Bay. If they are a No. 4 seed, they would host the Eagles or Detroit. They would have to travel to Philadelphia if they fall to a No. 5 seed.
NOTES: Running back Robert Smith, whose knee was tested after Sunday's game against Green Bay, participated in practice Wednesday and is expected to play against the Colts. Quarterback Daunte Culpepper (ankle) and wide receiver Matthew Hatchette (hip muscle) are the only Vikings whose status is listed as questionable. Smith, safety Orlando Thomas (shoulder) and tight end Johnny McWilliams (groin) are probable. ... Smith, the NFL's second-rated rushing leader, needs to outgain James by 98 yards to win the rushing title. ... The Vikings brought only backup quarterback Bubby Brister to their weekly press conference, rather than the usual three or four players. The players turned down nearly every interview request, with Lacina and Culpepper among the few exceptions.
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