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Culpepper out for season with knee injury

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Quarterback Daunte Culpepper is taken off the field with an injured knee during their game against the Carolina Sunday (Photo by Craig Jones/Getty Images)
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper is out for the season. Culpepper suffered a knee injury on Sunday during a loss to the Carolina Panthers in North Carolina. Vikings officials say Culpepper faces surgery and a long road to rehabilitation. The injury also stands as a major bump on an already rocky road the Vikings will need to travel if they hope to make the playoffs at the end of the season.

Eden Prairie, Minn. — Culpepper is known as a good running quarterback as well as a passer. And with the build of a linebacker or small defensive lineman, he's hard to tackle around his upper body. So sometimes players hit him around the legs.

In the first quarter against the Carolina Panthers, a defender hit hard him in the right knee, forcing it to bend in a direction knees aren't suppose to bend. Culpepper immediately clutched his knee in pain and was helped off the field.

Vikings head coach Mike Tice says the preliminary report from doctors is not good.

"He had significant injury to his knee to a number of different areas -- the ACL, MCL the PCL," according to Tice. "We'll have to wait a couple of weeks for the swelling to go down and he'll get prepared for surgery at some point in the next few weeks. And will obviously out for the season."

Tice says while he's not a doctor, he understands that with today's medical technology that Culpepper should be able to play again -- maybe next year.

But that may be an optimistic estimate. Dr. Robert LaPrade, is a professor of orthopaedic surgery at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He says anterior cruciate ligament -- the ACL; the medial-collateral ligament -- the MCL -- and posterior cruciate ligament -- the PCL -- hold a person's knee together. LaPrade says if the preliminary reports are accurate and Culpepper sustained significant damage to those three major ligaments, then he may be looking at up to a year of rehabilitation.

"When you're looking at those three combinations, that's truly a knee dislocation which is less than five percent of all knee injuries," he said.

LaPrade says Culpepper is likely suffering from a Low Velocity Knee Dislocation. He says the surgery is often long and complex and depending on the damage it may require the use of donated tissue from a cadaver to finish the job. LaPrade says on one hand, athletes have an advantage over most people who sustain serious knee injuries because they have access to the best rehabilitation equipment. But there can be problems too.

"The disadvantage is that they are so big usually that it puts a lot of torque on their knee so they actually have to be a little bit more careful in the first couple of weeks while things are healing so they don't make things stretch out," he said.

The injury to Culpepper comes at a time when the Vikings are already dealing with a lot of adversity. They've only won two of their first seven games. And several players may face legal troubles stemming from a raucous cruise on Lake Minnetonka several weeks ago. That case is still under investigation.

The Vikings will now be led by back-up quarterback Brad Johnson. Johnson played for the Vikings from 1992 to 1998. He later led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a win in Super Bowl 37.

Wide receiver Marcus Robinson says he feels bad for Daunte. But he says the rest of the guys can't let everything that's gone wrong this season get them down.

"The most important thing is to catch the football, as far as receivers are concerned -- you still got to go out and run the same routes you're running - trust that the quarterback can get the ball out to you. Brad has won a Super Bowl. He's a great quarterback and they brought him in for that same reason. He's definitely going to come in here and do a fine job for us, I think. We still got to focus and play hard," Robinson said.

The Vikings play division rivals the Detroit Lions at the Dome on Sunday. And despite the Vikings slow start, none of their NFC north teams is running away with the division lead. A strong run toward the end of the season could put them in the playoffs. That goal has been made even tougher by the loss of Culpepper.