As Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre prepares to return to Lambeau Field once again, there isn’t nearly as much talk about it, or the fact that Favre and Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers will be going head-to-head, as there was last year.
Sure, the storyline is no longer new, fresh and never-before-seen, as was the case in 2009. But oftentimes sequels generate more interest than the originals at the box office, so why not this one?
“The intensity level will still be high,” Rodgers said. “It’s a rivalry game, it’s a division game. But I think both teams would like to be in a better situation.”
In other words, neither team is where it wants to be – or expected to be – at this stage, staring up at the 4-2 Chicago Bears atop the NFC North. So Sunday night’s prime-time contest at Lambeau Field is more about getting a win over a division rival in the here and now than about exacting revenge or proving anything relative to actions from the past.
Each team needs this victory as much as any team could need one in Week 7, so that’s where the attention is directed.
The Packers have turned a 2-0 start into a 3-3 mark by losing three games in the last four weeks by a field goal apiece, including the last two in overtime. The team, particularly on defense, has been decimated by injuries and as some players return to health and the practice field this week, there’s an opportunity for a major building-block type of win heading into the teeth of the midseason schedule, which includes another game with these Vikings just four weeks from now.
In the meantime, the Vikings have rebounded from an 0-2 start to get to 2-3 and have added a game-breaking deep threat at receiver in Randy Moss. But Minnesota has injury issues of its own, most notably the tendonitis in Favre’s elbow, which he told reporters on Wednesday continues to get better and has benefited greatly from last week’s cortisone injection. There’s also the spectacle of the NFL investigating Favre for some alleged off-the-field behavior from his 2008 season with the New York Jets. But unlike last year, that bit of tabloid talk has nothing to do with the Packers.
During the preseason, Rodgers was quoted in Sports Illustrated’s NFL preview issue saying that people within the Packers organization placed too much emphasis on the games against the Vikings last year, which inevitably added to the drama and didn’t help the team. Head Coach Mike McCarthy disputed that notion to some degree on Wednesday, but even he admitted to being “probably too confident” heading into the first Packers-Vikings game last year, when Green Bay was 2-1, Minnesota was 3-0 and first place in the division was at stake at the Metrodome.
“I don’t think anything ever surprises you in this league,” McCarthy said of how different the scenario is this time around. “It’s amazing how outside the building it swings so much week to week, and I think that’s just another reason why you need to focus on your own house and farm your own land and all those types of mindsets.”
This year both teams are simply trying to avoid a fourth loss at a time when Chicago, which plays Washington at home on Sunday, has a chance to enter its bye week at 5-2. That Bears result will be known by the time the Packers and Vikings kick off on Sunday, and both teams hope that they’ll be looking to pull even with Chicago in the loss column instead of avoiding a two-game deficit.
Either way, both teams – touted as Super Bowl contenders when the season began – are sitting in that middle ground where there’s urgency to get things going even though no one in the wide-open NFC has taken charge. No team in the conference is better than 4-2, but five teams (the Giants, Eagles, Saints and Falcons, in addition to the Bears) possess that mark, setting the stage for a logjam of teams to be in playoff contention down the road, provided you don’t fall behind too far, too fast.
“We’re 3-3, we’re a game back of Chicago, and we’ve got a good opportunity to still accomplish all the goals we set forth at the beginning of the season,” Rodgers said. “But it’s time to start playing the kind of ball – especially on offense – the kind of ball that we’re expected to play and we feel we’re capable of playing.”
Minnesota is saying the same thing. While the Packers over the last two games have struggled mightily on third downs (a combined 5-for-26), absorbed nine sacks, and failed to produce one first down in three overtime possessions with a potential victory there for the taking, the Vikings weren’t exactly thrilled with their offensive production in a “must-win” victory over Dallas last week to avoid falling to 1-4.
The Vikings amassed just 188 yards and had 10 of their 24 points set up by Dallas turnovers deep in Cowboys territory. Another seven points came via special teams on Percy Harvin’s kick return for a score. Minnesota’s longest scoring drive in the game was 49 yards.
It’s safe to say that neither team has hit its stride, but there’s no better time than now to do so.
As the records currently stand, the Vikings don’t face a sub-.500 team until Week 13, and three of the six games in that span are against the Bears and Packers. Nothing will come easy, but their opportunity is right in front of them.
Meanwhile, the Packers are trying to halt a three-game losing streak to their border rivals, their longest losing streak to a division foe under McCarthy. While two of those losses, of course, came at the expense of Favre last year, the Packers insist the enemy is moreso the color purple than the No. 4, and that perspective is easier to maintain this year.
“These games are important, so you can never make it too important,” defensive end Cullen Jenkins said of the atmosphere in ’09. “You can possibly create a scenario where people are nervous and scared to make mistakes out there. But I don’t think it was that. I just think they had our number last year. They played great against us. We just have to go out there this year and look at it as a new season.”
And a lot remaining in that new season, though it has reached a critical juncture. With a bye week sprinkled in, the Packers play five of their next seven games on the road after this week.
So coming off the overtime loss to Miami, the team feels that failing to protect its home field for the second Sunday in a row is not an option, and that would be the case no matter who’s visiting.
“This is big for both of our teams right now,” defensive end Ryan Pickett said. “We both need a win real bad, but I think we need it a little more.”
Additional coverage – Oct. 20