In his haste to seize the trust of teammates, Daunte Culpepper would internalize the mistakes that often visit young quarterbacks. When he threw an incomplete pass, he would take it as a personal defeat. Interceptions and fumbles stacked onto one another so quickly, they seemed to obstruct his view in the pocket.
"He would take it as kind of a failure," Scott Linehan, the Minnesota Vikings' offensive coordinator, said in a telephone interview Tuesday from Eden Prairie, Minnesota. "He felt a lot of pressure to make plays. But sometimes you are going to throw the ball away and sometimes you have to punt. I think he realizes he only has to drive the ship. He doesn't have to make it work."
In the Vikings' surge to a 4-1 record, Culpepper and the offense are posting the kind of statistics that the National Football League has never seen, a result of a young quarterback finding comfort in one of the most scrutinized positions in sports.
Two years after Culpepper's season was awash in mistakes, he is putting up pinball numbers in his sixth season and setting the Vikings on course to be one of the power teams in the NFC.
Last Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, with receiver Randy Moss sidelined in the second half with an injured hamstring, Culpepper still set an NFL record by throwing five touchdown passes for the third game this season.
The Vikings' offense is averaging 476.6 yards a game, tops in the NFL and more than 34 yards ahead of the record pace set by the St. Louis Rams in 2000, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
And Culpepper, with 1,766 yards and 18 touchdowns, could threaten Dan Marino's records of 5,084 yards and 48 touchdowns in a season, set in 1984.
Linehan said that Culpepper's dead-eye accuracy -- it is 72 percent this season -- might be his most overlooked quality. At 6 feet 4 and 264 pounds, the 27-year-old Culpepper often gains plaudits for his size and athleticism, but his deft passing skills are sometimes overlooked, Linehan said.
"I really believe that his emphasis on technique and the little parts of his game have helped him continue to develop," Linehan said. "Schemes and reads, that's the most overrated part of football. If he is not technically sound, he doesn't play as well. He keeps working on it. He's just shown so much maturity that way."
Culpepper has acknowledged that, in recent years, he tried to force things to happen, a common trait in a college-superstar-turned-franchise-pro quarterback.
In his early years in Minnesota, where Moss can be temperamental and other receivers have designs on the ball as well, Culpepper looked as if he wanted to please everybody. In 2002, his carelessness led to a league-high 32 turnovers, including 23 interceptions. Last season, he cut the turnovers to 17, with 11 interceptions.
This season, Culpepper has lost just one fumble and thrown three interceptions.
"Coach Linehan has a big part to do with this, too," Culpepper said in the days before the Saints game. "He tells me: `Hey, just run the offense. Don't try to do too much.' That's another thing I had to realize: sometimes you have to punt. That's why you pay a punter. You can't get every first down."
In not forcing plays, Culpepper is making first downs anyway, using Linehan's and coach Mike Tice's offense. It is steeped in the vertical passing game and also has elements of the West Coast offense, which allows Culpepper to use short timing plays.