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Culpepper weathers a rough return

In his first game back since being cut by the Bucs, he has one tackle in sporadic action for the Bears. And he keeps a stiff upper lip.

Everything was back to normal; everything was out of whack.

Jogging onto the Raymond James Stadium turf before the game, Brad Culpepper must have felt like the past few weeks had been a bizarre dream. But he was finally awake, and everything seemed kosher again.

Except he was on the wrong sideline, wearing the wrong uniform, playing for the other team.

Does it get more bizarre than this: Brad Culpepper was rooting against Warren Sapp on Sunday.

Culpepper, the defensive tackle released by the Bucs in a preseason move that stunned fans, players and Culpepper himself, returned to the place he had earned his living for six seasons with Tampa Bay to earn it as a member of the rival Chicago Bears.

Culpepper was on the field about 50 percent of the time, rotating with Mike Wells and Jim Flanigan. He contributed one tackle as his old team whipped his new team 41-0.

How Culpepper really felt about everything is uncertain. He answered dozens of questions from reporters after the game, but his responses were brief and betrayed little.

"It was pretty strange, but football is football, so you deal with it and play ball," Culpepper said.

Sans Culpepper, the Bucs defense was as impressive as ever.

"It was unfortunate. Things kind of snowballed in the second half," Culpepper said. "We've just got to regroup and realize it's a long season."

The Bears defense played well in the first half. It allowed no sustained drives and 95 total yards. With Tampa Bay ahead 20-0 to start the third quarter, however, it allowed two touchdowns in less than a minute midway through, and the rout was on.

Culpepper said that after the game he spoke briefly with Sapp, Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and defensive lineman Tyoka Jackson.

"That's personal," Sapp said when asked about his exchange. "It's just funny. (He's) always been my ace, for the last six years. With him not being beside me, it's been funny the last two weeks. But it was good to see him, good to see him well and in good spirits.

"We joked a little bit at halftime, just a little inside thing, but it was good to see the old boy."

In the fourth quarter, on Mike Alstott's 20-yard run that made the score 41-0, Culpepper was pinned to the ground chest down by Bucs guard Frank Middleton. As Alstott went by, Culpepper appeared to give a little kick with his legs in a desperate effort to trip him.

The play seemed a microcosm of the way things have gone for Culpepper lately.

"Every time I looked at him and gave him a smile, he put his head down or he looked away from me," Middleton said. "He wouldn't make eye contact with me, so I (didn't) mess with him. I just let him do his job."