tampabay.com

Johnson winning, having fun with Vikings

By RICK STROUD
Published December 14, 2005


TAMPA - Once unappreciated, Brad Johnson now is simply undefeated.

Since taking over at quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings for injured starter Daunte Culpepper, Johnson has won six straight games and is in position to take his fourth different team to the playoffs.

"I've been rejuvenated," said the 37-year-old Johnson. "I've been in this system before, so it's easy to come back. It's been fun for me. I love watching film and getting ready for the game as much as I ever have. I enjoy everything about it."

Why not? Johnson is the ninth-ranked passer in the NFL with a rating of 90.9. He has completed 61.7 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and two interceptions.

Culpepper, a three-time Pro Bowl player, had thrown 12 interceptions and six touchdowns and lost three fumbles in the first seven games before tearing three knee ligaments in a loss to Carolina Oct.30.

From a 2-5 mess, Johnson has resurrected the Vikings (8-5) along with his career. Entering Sunday's game against the Steelers, Minnesota is one game behind Chicago in the NFC North.

The former Bucs Super Bowl quarterback had hoped to find a job as a starter when he was released by Tampa Bay at the end of the 2004 season. But workouts with the Lions, Dolphins and Bears never produced a contract, so Johnson returned to Minnesota, where he spent his first five pro seasons and was 23-15 as a starter from 1996-98.

"I didn't like the situation I was in, but I had nowhere else to go," Johnson said. "I didn't get what I wanted, which was to be a starter. Everybody went with their guy. (Steve) Mariucci went with Jeff Garcia, (Dolphins offensive coordinator Scott) Linahan went with Gus Frerotte. So this was the best situation for me. Even when I wasn't playing, we loved being here."

Johnson still is tagged with labels such as "journeyman quarterback" and "efficient passer," adept at "managing the game." He never has gotten much credit for arm strength or athleticism.

"Dominoes," Johnson said. "One person said something, now everyone is saying it, too."

But the only moniker that would seem to apply to Johnson is winner. He already has taken the Vikings, Redskins and Bucs to the postseason.

In fact, it's not too farfetched to think that Johnson's Vikings may face the Bucs in the playoffs.

"They've really let me take off with this thing," Johnson said. "It's been fun.

"Guess we won't know the end of the story until it happens. The Super Bowl will always be No.1, but this has a another story to it. It's funny how things work out."