INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ Peyton Manning leads the AFC in passer rating and touchdown passes this season. Daunte Culpepper has done the same in the NFC.
Now each quarterback may have to perform perfectly.
When the Indianapolis Colts and Minnesota Vikings meet Monday night, Manning and Culpepper know there will be a little margin for error. One failed drive won't be just another lost opportunity; it could be the difference between winning and losing.
As an offense we have high goals and expectations,'' Manning said.We're disappointed when we punt because we feel we're better than that.''
The game could be one of this season's most entertaining.
Indianapolis (4-3) and Minnesota (5-2) both rank among the NFL's top offenses and worst defenses, setting up an anticipated shootout between two teams that need a victory.
The Vikings had a four-game winning streak end last week while the Colts are trying to snap their first two-game skid in almost two years.
On paper, the teams look alike.
Indianapolis (4-3) has Manning, last year's co-MVP; Marvin Harrison, a five-time Pro Bowler and the NFL record-holder for most receptions in a season; Edgerrin James, a two-time NFL rushing champ; and Reggie Wayne and Brandon Stokley, who have become consistent targets this year.
Minnesota (5-2) counters with Culpepper, a two-time Pro Bowl starter; Randy Moss, the league's biggest deep threat; and three potentially dangerous runners in Mewelde Moore, Michael Bennett and Onterrio Smith, who is returning after a four-game substance-abuse suspension.
But Moss is questionable with a strained right hamstring and coach Mike Tice said he won't make a decision until game time. Without Moss, the Vikings looked like a different team in last week's 34-13 loss to the New York Giants, which is why the Vikings are making contingency plans.
I'm hoping they don't score 40 points,'' Tice said.You have to be prepared to stop them. Does it happen? Not always. I just hope we can slow them down because I don't think you can stop them.''
During the first half of the season, the Colts' biggest opponent has been their defense.
While averaging a league-high 31.1 points and punting the second-fewest times in the NFL (22), the Colts simply cannot stay on the field long enough.
Opponents have usually played keepaway against a defense nearly on a record-setting pace for yards allowed and which has yielded the fourth-highest scoring average (25.4) in the NFL.
The two times opponents tried to play up-tempo against the Colts, it's been wild. Indianapolis won Round 1, beating Green Bay 45-31, and lost Round 2, 45-35 at Kansas City last week.
Minnesota's offense could create even more problems.
Culpepper already has set an NFL record by throwing for five touchdowns in three games this year, while Moore averages 5.9 yards per carry, Bennett has sprinter's speed and Smith is the power back.
If that means Round 3 will come Monday night, at least some people in the stadium will enjoy it.
I think it's a fun matchup,'' Vikings offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said.We're going to get a chance to play each other, and see who's the best.''
Colts coach Tony Dungy, a former defensive coordinator, is hoping for a different kind of game.
After giving up 590 yards to the Chiefs, Dungy has preached consistency all week. Monday night will be the next big test.
We've got to do a better job of not putting people in scoring position,'' Dungy said.You can't give people extra chances when they have good offenses.''
There are other problems, too.
Indy's smallish defense faces a much heftier Vikings line. Plus, a secondary ravaged by injuries must also contend with Minnesota's big receivers such as Marcus Robinson and possibly Moss.
Starting cornerback Donald Strickland is out for the season with a torn labrum in his right shoulder, and Strickland's replacement, Joseph Jefferson, is questionable with a sore right knee. The other starter, Jason David, is expected to play with a hip injury.
If starting strong safety Mike Doss cannot play because of a strained groin, rookie Bob Sanders will make his first NFL start.
Culpepper isn't worried about the Colts' defense, he just wants to make sure everything clicks for the Vikings.
We want to be good on every play,'' he said.We want to execute every time, make the adjustments and the ones who make the plays are the ones who win games.''
And one failure Monday night could be one failure too many.
We want to be perfect on every play,'' Stokley said.If we aren't and we do lose the game, then that's on us. It doesn't matter if the defense gives up 800 yards, that's on us.''