Veteran Johnson plays like a rookie
By Jon Krawczynski
AP Sports Writer
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Brad Johnson has spent 14 years building a reputation as a steady, reliable quarterback who doesn’t make mistakes and can outsmart opposing defenses.
He delivered the "anti-Johnson" performance in a humbling 31-7 loss to the New England Patriots on Monday night, and coach Brad Childress didn’t hide his disappointment on Tuesday.
"The big thing is you’ve got to take care of the football," Childress said in reference to Johnson’s three interceptions. "That’s just nonnegotiable. As I mentioned last night, anybody that touches the football needs to do a great job of taking care of it. That’s what we’re all fighting over. It’s OK to have to punt the football, but you need to look after it."
Fed up with Johnson’s sloppiness and questionable decision-making, Childress benched the veteran early in the fourth quarter and went with backup Brooks Bollinger to finish the game.
"I would have liked to play it out, but the game was out of hand at that point," Johnson said.
Bollinger didn’t fare any better. He was sacked on the first three snaps he took and later threw an interception of his own.
Johnson called it "probably one of the most embarrassing games I’ve ever been a part of." He was 20-of-33 for 185 yards and failed to lead the Vikings to an offensive touchdown for the third time this season.
On Tuesday, Childress stood by his stance after the game that Johnson will stay the starting quarterback, then explained his decision to yank him.
"I would say that after coaching quarterbacks over the course of time, I’m not a short hook guy," he said. "But by the same token, it’s kind of like Popeye — that’s all I can stands, I can’t stands no more, and that was it."
The Vikings raised eyebrows in the offseason when they traded struggling and disgruntled quarterback Daunte Culpepper to Miami, then decided to enter this season with the 38-year-old Johnson as their starting quarterback.
Johnson replaced Culpepper admirably last season, leading the Vikings to a 7-2 finish. All the while, he displayed the smarts and skills that have kept the former seventh-round draft pick around for so long.
He hasn’t been able to recapture the magic in Childress’ first season. The Vikings finally looked to be getting on track last week with a 31-13 victory at Seattle. The offense delivered a few big plays in that game, including Johnson’s 40-yard TD pass to Marcus Robinson that got the route going.
But with Patriots coach Bill Belichick on the other sideline on Monday night, the Vikings (4-3) reverted to their struggles of the first six weeks.
Johnson threw an interception at the goal line as the Vikings were looking to the tie the game in the first quarter and could have been picked off again when he threw into triple coverage later in the period, but the pass was knocked down.
The ugliest mistake came in the third quarter, when he was forced to step up in the pocket, then threw on the run toward Troy Williamson. The pass landed about 15 yards short of the receiver, and in the arms of Patriots defensive back Chad Scott.
It was the kind of forced play, and glaring mistake, that a young quarterback would make and uncharacteristic of Johnson’s low-risk, high-reward career.
"The big thing is he has the power of choice when he has that football," Childress said. "Every play doesn’t need to be saved. He knows that. There are just some that they have a better defense than you have a play called."
The Vikings bruised more than their egos in Monday night’s thumping at the hands of New England.
Middle linebacker Napoleon Harris dislocated his wrist and was put in a cast and defensive tackle Kevin Williams played most of the 31-7 loss with a high ankle sprain, coach Brad Childress said Tuesday.
Center Matt Birk had a hyperextended knee and defensive tackle Pat Williams had some "moderate swelling" in his knee.
Childress didn’t give a forecast on any of the players’ chances to play Sunday at San Francisco, saying he would have a better idea Wednesday.
If Harris can’t play, Childress said strong side linebacker Ben Leber could slide over or backup Dontarrious Thomas could start.
Receiver Marcus Robinson, who leads the team in touchdowns and missed the Patriots game with a back injury, is still recovering.