EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Even the biggest and strongest of players can be rendered ineffective when the brain and the body are not in sync.
They don't come much bigger and stronger than Minnesota Vikings left tackle Bryant McKinnie, who was reminded of that last week. After making a push for his first Pro Bowl bid in the first 13 games of the season, McKinnie played so poorly against Julius Peppers and the Carolina Panthers that he was benched in the fourth quarter, the first time that happened in his eight-year career.
The 6-foot-8, 335-pounder charged with protecting Brett Favre's blind side is trying to get back on track. The Vikings (11-3) need him too, coming off two ugly losses in their past three games that have shaken their once-firm hold on the NFC's No. 2 seed -- and first-round bye -- for the playoffs. Minnesota plays at Chicago (5-9) on Monday night.
McKinnie, a former first-round draft pick, insisted this week his performance against the Panthers wasn't as poor as it was made out to be.
"He played a good game. He made a good play on me," McKinnie said, referring to the one sack Peppers was credited with. "But when you go back and really watch the film, he didn't have that many plays on me."
Two penalties, for a false start in the first quarter and for holding in the third quarter, threw McKinnie's mind out of whack. He also said he was focusing too much on his footwork, worried his stance might be tipping off the defense to what type of play was coming -- as one report suggested earlier this month.
"It was entirely too much thinking going on," said McKinnie, who joined the starting lineup midway through his rookie season in 2002. He has missed only four games since then -- at the beginning of last year because of a league suspension for off-field behavior.
This week, McKinnie has been working on fine-tuning his technique. He also said there's a plan in place to adjust the snap count in order to make it easier for him and rookie right tackle Phil Loadholt.
"That will put me in a better position to get off the ball," McKinnie said. "I just have to make it where I don't have to look at the ball. When I'm in a position to hear it, I don't want to have to look at the ball if I can hear the cadence."
Coach Brad Childress took some of the blame for not giving McKinnie more help, either by putting a tight end to McKinnie's side for a double team or using a running back to help chip Peppers more often.
"We didn't do a good enough job with getting him help, whether it was chip help or tight end help or fading a guard in that direction," Childress said.
Still, that's no excuse for a player who sees himself as one of the best at his position.
"Usually on the road, no matter who the tackle is and if you have a premier pass rusher, they usually get help," McKinnie said. "I didn't get any, but that's not to blame. Still, at the end of the day I've got to do what I have to do, you've got to be comfortable and I don't think I was comfortable with a lot of stuff that I was doing.
"I feel like the penalties and stuff were kind of throwing me out of whack because then I started concentrating on not getting penalties. I was kind of behind sometimes on the snap count."
McKinnie wasn't the only lineman who struggled in Carolina. Favre was sacked four times and Adrian Peterson rushed for 35 yards on 12 carries in the 26-7 defeat.
Favre said it was more of a case of Peppers playing well than McKinnie playing poorly. Either way, the veteran quarterback warned, McKinnie and the rest of the offensive line have to be ready to get the best from their opponents from here on out.
"A lot is being made of Bryant was getting beat here. I love our guys up front. Peppers gets paid a lot of money for a reason," Favre said. "He showed it. ... To think that we're going to get anything less than what we got the other night in every game we play is stupid. We're going to get the best from everyone, so we'd better be ready for it."