Packers seek improvement from Tolzien, end slide while Vikings stick with Ponder

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder (7) hands off to Adrian Peterson in the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, in Seattle. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder (7) hands off to Adrian Peterson in the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, in Seattle. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)  (The Associated Press)

Crunch time is here for the Packers, and not just because they've lost straight three games since Aaron Rodgers got hurt.

The Minnesota Vikings march into Lambeau Field on Sunday for an NFC North rivalry game that always makes coach Mike McCarthy more intense. And the Vikings (2-8) might just be the perfect foe to finally provide Green Bay (5-5) a win in what's otherwise been a miserable November.

"Against this group that we're playing (Sunday), there's always a sense of urgency," McCarthy said.

Last time these teams met, the Packers won handily, 44-31 last month in Minneapolis. Rodgers was 24 of 29 for 285 yards and two touchdowns.

Rodgers broke his left collarbone on the first series of the Packers' next game, against the Bears, and hasn't played since then. McCarthy has turned to one-time third-stringer Scott Tolzien to start while Rodgers heals.

Five things to watch as the Vikings try to give the Packers their first three-game losing streak at Lambeau Field since 2006:

SORE STARS: For years, a Vikings-Packers game featured two of the biggest names in the NFL in Rodgers and Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.

Well, Rodgers is hurt. And Peterson's banged up, too, with a sore groin. He was held out of practice at midweek, though coach Leslie Frazier said he was cautiously optimistic then that his top tailback would play.

Peterson is averaging 115.5 yards in 13 career games against Green Bay.

Sunday's game would also mark the first back at Lambeau for former Packers receiver Greg Jennings, who missed practice at midweek due to an Achilles tendon injury.

BACKUP PLAN: Tolzien has shown poise in handling the glare that comes with having to replace perhaps the more irreplaceable player in the NFL. The on-field results so far are two defeats.

Tolzien has thrown for 619 yards over the past two games, and shown he can hit the deep ball. But Tolzien already has five interceptions in 73 attempts, or one more than Rodgers had in 251 attempts.

"He's learning on the fly," Rodgers said. "His preparation has been very good, his approach. And I think he's primed to have a good week."

With a start, Tolzien would become the first Packers quarterback other than Brett Favre or Rodgers to start back-to-back games since Don Majkowski started the first three games in 1992.

QB QUANDRY: Frazier can relate with being unsettled at quarterback.

Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman have all started this year. The Vikings' Wheel of Quarterbacks has stopped again at Ponder, who can at least draw from having a little success — albeit late in the game — in that 44-31 loss to Green Bay when he ran for a 19-yard touchdown and didn't throw an interception.

"We're not going into (the game) thinking he's going to fail or he's going to get off to a slow start," Frazier said. "We're looking forward to him having a good ballgame."

TOO FEW TOs: Turnover margin has been a problem for both teams. The Vikings are minus-8, hampered in large part by giving up 13 interceptions and losing nine fumbles.

The Packers are minus-6, but their big problem has been just four interceptions by the defense, tied for last in the league with Jacksonville and Houston. Ponder thinks injuries to linebackers Clay Matthews and Brad Jones have affected Green Bay. Both starters are back in the lineup.

"Guys haven't been healthy," Ponder said. "They're both back so they're going to be a different team."

DARE TO THROW: With Rodgers hurt, defenses are putting eight defenders into the box more often against the Packers.

Eddie Lacy has 645 yards over his last seven games, tops in the NFL in that span. The bruising rookie was held to just 27 yards on 14 carries last week against the Giants.

"We have to game-plan, try to figure out what we can do to try to figure out what we can do to be able to get a blocker on that defender," Lacy said.



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