Minnesota left tackle Bryant McKinnie, a Woodbury High graduate, played so poorly against Julius Peppers and the Carolina Panthers on Sunday that he was benched in the fourth quarter, the first time that had 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 this week.

The Vikings (11-3) need him to, coming off two ugly losses over their last 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-the-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 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."

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's 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 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.

Texans. Dunta Robinson's shoe escapade has turned into a $25,000 boost for a facility that will serve underprivileged children.

The Houston cornerback was fined that amount for wearing shoes during the season opener that carried a message directed at general manager Rick Smith: It said, "pay me Rick."

Robinson was upset that he and the Texans were unable to reach a long-term contract and skipped training camp before signing.

After writing letters to Smith, owner Bob McNair, and coach Gary Kubiak, Robinson was allowed to donate the fine this week toward the construction of a Houston Texans YMCA that will benefit youths in some of the city's poorest neighborhoods.

Before delivering the check, Robinson did arts and crafts with a group of children in a housing development in Houston's Third Ward, a neighborhood that will be served by the YMCA. Dozens of boys and girls from elementary and junior high school giggled and smiled as they decorated wooden Christmas ornaments with Robinson and his fiancee.

"It's a great way to make a negative situation into a positive," Robinson said.

Bills. Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was limited in practice yesterday, and his availability for tomorrow's game in Atlanta will be a game-time decision.

Fitzpatrick participated in individual workouts but not in practice. Interim coach Perry Fewell said he hopes Fitzpatrick might be available against the Falcons.

Brian Brohm would start if Fitzpatrick can't go.

Drayton Florence was ill and did not practice and is questionable. If he is out, the Bills will be down to their fourth and fifth cornerbacks in the starting lineup, Reggie Corner and Ashton Youboty.

Patriots. New England Patriots running back Fred Taylor is listed as questionable for tomorrow's game against his former team, the Jacksonville Jaguars.

He has missed the last 10 games with an ankle injury. He participated fully in practices Wednesday and Thursday and on a limited basis yesterday.

Taylor spent 11 seasons in Jacksonville and is the Jaguars' all-time leading rusher. He signed with the Patriots as a free agent before the season.

Defensive linemen Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren, and offensive linemen Nick Kaczur and Stephen Neal also are listed as questionable. All four missed Sunday's 17-10 win at Buffalo.

The Patriots wuld clinch the AFC East title with a win tomorrow at home. The Jaguars need a win to stay alive in the wild-card chase.