MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Playing in the building he once lit up as a member of the Minnesota Vikings, Oakland's Daunte Culpepper delivered an enigmatic performance reminiscent of his career here.
Culpepper was up and down from start to finish in Oakland's 29-22 loss to Minnesota on Sunday, completing 23 of 39 passes for 344 yards and a touchdown. He also fumbled twice and was called for intentional grounding while he was in the end zone, giving a safety to the Vikings.
``I think every week and every day I'm feeling stronger and stronger,'' said Culpepper, whose career was threatened by a severe knee injury in 2005. ``I just have to continue to get better. I'm working real hard at it.
``They told me it was going to take two years just to start running again. I was running in less than eight months. I feel like I'm ahead of schedule.''
Three days after the two-year anniversary of his major knee surgery, the quarterback was back in the place he used to call home, moving around nimbly in the pocket and launching his trademark deep passes downfield.
For six years in Minnesota, those throws almost always ended up in the arms of Randy Moss. The electrifying combination helped turn the Metrodome into one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL, so Culpepper knew what he was getting into in his first game back here.
``Every game these fans come out and they sell this dome out and you know it's going to be crazy,'' Culpepper said. ``It's a great atmosphere to play in. I love it.''
Vikings fans have been waiting for a crack at Culpepper ever since his bizarre exit before the 2006 season, when Brad Childress replaced Mike Tice as coach.
Despite putting up astronomical numbers in 5 1/2 seasons as the starter for the Vikings - 20,162 yards passing and 135 TD passes in 80 games - fans here never forgot about the negatives.
Such as his struggles in the Vikings' 41-0 loss to the Giants in the NFC championship game in 2001; his propensity to fumble; and the way he demanded a trade after not seeing eye-to-eye with Childress on his rehabilitation. That all combined with his considerable accomplishments to make him a polarizing figure in these parts.
So it was no surprise when the fans booed lustily when he first took the field in silver and white on Sunday.
``I didn't really pay any attention to it,'' Culpepper said.
In many ways, his performance was vintage Culpepper. The strong-armed QB hooked up with Ronald Curry on passes of 46 and 49 yards in the first quarter alone, conjuring images of his heaves to Moss.
``He played good. Really didn't make that many mistakes,'' said Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield, one of Culpepper's former teammates. ``He still has that deep ball, I tell you that.''
He also made some impressive throws on the run, including when he bought time by moving to his left and found John Madsen in the end zone for a 10-yard score in the second quarter.
``I thought Daunte was a warrior today,'' Raiders coach Lane Kiffin said, adding that Culpepper will be the starter next week against Kansas City. ``I thought he played really well.''
But there were also a few sightings of ``Bad Daunte,'' including losing one of two fumbles, tripping over an offensive lineman and stumbling for a 4-yard loss and dropping a snap after his second deep ball to Curry.
He also held the ball for too long at times and was reluctant to take off and scramble - one of his calling cards as a three-time Pro Bowler with Minnesota - on his still-mending right knee.
With No. 1 pick JaMarcus Russell waiting in the wings, it is unlikely Culpepper will be back in Oakland next season. It appears the job will be Culpepper's this season until Russell is ready, so the veteran sees this as a chance to audition for another team.
``All I know is that every day in practice, every game, is an opportunity for players to showcase themselves,'' Culpepper said. ``That's what I try to do day in, day out. I just want to be successful, no matter where it is, who I'm playing with and what situation I'm in.''

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