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Culpepper out for the season

An already dire situation got worse for the demoralized Minnesota Vikings with confirmation Monday that quarterback Daunte Culpepper will miss the rest of the season with a devastating injury to his right knee.

Culpepper, a three-time Pro Bowl pick coming off a career year whose effectiveness had fallen off dramatically this season, tore his anterior cruciate, medial collateral and posterior cruciate ligaments in Sunday's 38-13 loss at Carolina.

Once the swelling subsides, the 28-year-old Culpepper will have surgery and several months of arduous rehabilitation. An injury of this nature typically takes a year to recover, but at least right now the Vikings are optimistic about his status for 2006.

"Our expectations are he's going to be ready for the season," athletic trainer Chuck Barta said.

Culpepper was hurt on the final play of the first quarter, when Panthers cornerback Chris Gamble hit him low at the end of an 18-yard run for a first down.

Veteran Brad Johnson, who played for the Vikings from 1992-98 and returned this year, will be the starter. Untested Shaun Hill moves up to second string.

Culpepper finishes the season with six touchdown passes and 12 interceptions and a passer rating of 64.4. Last season, he had 39 TD passes, only 11 interceptions and a rating of 110.9.

RAMS: Joe Vitt, interim head coach with Mike Martz recovering from a heart ailment, underwent a heart procedure of his own Monday.

The 51-year-old Vitt had a cardiac catheterization around 6 a.m. He was back to work at Rams Park by lunchtime. He held his regular 3 p.m. postgame news conference, making a handful of jokes about his health.

Vitt told players about the procedure after Sunday's 24-21 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Martz, 54, is being treated for endocarditis, an infection of the lining or the valves of the heart. He will miss the rest of the season.

At least three of the Rams' four sidelined stars are expected to return after the bye week. The exception could be wide receiver Isaac Bruce, who has already missed five games with turf toe.

BUCCANEERS: Simeon Rice, sent home from San Francisco before the Bucs' 15-10 loss at San Francisco, is likely to return to the lineup against Carolina this week.

"It's done with. We need Simeon Rice back," coach Jon Gruden said. "I think he understands that. And we're looking forward to seeing him."

Although the Bucs didn't announce the reason Rice was deactivated Sunday, the team's sacks leader is believed to have missed a team meeting after the club arrived in California on Saturday.

49ERS: Cody Pickett is likely to be the 49ers' fourth starting quarterback in five games when San Francisco hosts the Giants on Sunday.

Coach Mike Nolan believes Alex Smith and Ken Dorsey won't be ready to return from injuries in time to prepare for the game, leaving Pickett, a fourth-stringer just two weeks ago, as the only option.

Smith missed San Francisco's 15-10 victory over Tampa Bay with strained knee ligaments, and Dorsey sprained his left ankle in the fourth quarter. Tim Rattay, the 49ers' starter in the season's first four games, was traded to the Buccaneers two weeks ago.

Pickett took over for the 49ers' final three drives against Tampa Bay, leading an 11-play march for the clinching field goal for San Francisco (2-5).

BROWNS: Cleveland's 19-16 loss to previously winless Houston could lead to rookie Charlie Frye replacing Trent Dilfer at quarterback.

The Browns (2-5) are in a familiar place: the AFC North's basement. Cleveland's third straight loss, and a lack of offensive production, has left coach Romeo Crennel pondering the move, although he didn't divulge which way he's leaning.

"One of the positives is you would anticipate that it might be more of a spark for the offense," Crennel said. "A negative would be, whoever your opponent is, they are going to bring every blitz known to man at him. If he can survive it, it will be a positive. If he can't survive it, it will be a negative."

BEARS: Wide receiver Mark Bradley will miss the rest of the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.

The rookie from Oklahoma had five catches for 88 yards before being hurt late in the first half of Sunday's 19-13 overtime victory at Detroit. Bradley landed awkwardly after hurdling Lions cornerback Andre Goodman on a 13-yard play.

"He was having a super game, his coming-out party," coach Lovie Smith said.

Bradley is second on the Bears to Muhsin Muhammad with 18 catches for 230 yards. Justine Gage, Bobby Wade and Carl Ford figure replace him.

JETS: The injury-plagued Jets placed quarterback Chad Pennington on injured reserve Monday, along with starting center Kevin Mawae and linebacker Eric Barton.

Pennington injured the rotator cuff in his right shoulder against Jacksonville on Sept. 25 and was kept on the 53-man roster even though he was declared out and underwent surgery. Barton injured his biceps and Mawae is out with a triceps injury.

BENGALS: Cincinnati put safety Madieu Williams on injured reserve, ending his season a week after he had shoulder surgery. The second-year starter played in the first four games, then hurt his shoulder in practice Sept. 30.

The Bengals activated guard Steven Vieira to take his roster spot. The undrafted rookie from UCLA sprained a foot in minicamp last April and was placed on the physically unable to perform list.

EAGLES: Punter Dirk Johnson has what coach Andy Reid termed a "pretty significant" groin injury. He'll see another doctor on Tuesday, and his status is uncertain.

However, kicker David Akers could return this week against Washington after missing four games with a hamstring injury.

LIONS: Two weeks after Jeff Garcia took the starting job away from Joey Harrington, Garcia isn't sure he will be healthy enough to start Sunday's game in Minnesota.

"Right now, it is tough to say what I'll be able to do," Garcia said Monday.

Garcia broke his left leg in Detroit's final preseason game, forcing him to miss the first five games of the regular season, and the injury has not reacted well to game action. Garcia took several hard hits in the 19-13 overtime loss to Chicago.

"This is definitely residual from the original injury," he said. "Putting that much stress on what isn't a completely healed break is causing this. I wish I was 100 percent, but unfortunately, it feels the way it does."

CHIEFS: Cornerback Patrick Surtain was one of five Chiefs undergoing MRI exams Monday, but is probably the only player whose availability for the next game might be in question. Surtain, who has been the Chiefs' only consistent cornerback, hurt his knee during their 28-20 loss at San Diego.

Backup cornerback Dexter McCleon, who has been sidelined, could be ready for Sunday's game with Oakland.

Also undergoing MRIs were guard Will Shields, defensive end Gary Stills, cornerback Eric Warfield and safety Jerome Woods.

SAINTS: Tight end Ernie Conwell tore a ligament in a knee Sunday and is expected to miss three to six weeks.

Running back Deuce McAllister, whose season ended four weeks ago when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee at Green Bay, said Dr. James Andrews performed surgery on him Thursday in Birmingham, Ala.

"I started (rehabilitating) the next day after the surgery, and I'm just trying to work through it. It's a 4-6 week process, and by late December I might be able to light jog straight ahead. I'll be fine by training camp."