Minnesota Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield is doing everything he can to get his injured right foot ready to go for an important divisional game at Green Bay on Sunday.
After watching Karl Paymah, Asher Allen and Benny Sapp fill in admirably against the Pittsburgh Steelers last weekend, Winfield's injury all of a sudden doesn't look quite as dire as it once did.
The three-man committee rotated into Winfield's spot opposite Cedric Griffin in Pittsburgh, limiting Hines Ward to one catch for 3 yards in a 27-17 loss. The Steelers scored two touchdowns on defense.
Ben Roethlisberger threw for a modest 175 yards after racking up 417 the previous week against Cleveland and the secondary allowed only two big plays while limiting the Steelers' offense to 13 points.
"All those guys that played, that rolled in there at that corner position, I thought did a nice job, made different plays at different times, from Sapp to Karl Paymah to Asher Allen," coach Brad Childress said.
Sapp and Paymah each had four tackles and a pass defense, and Allen had a sack and forced fumble in his first career game. The third-round draft pick from Georgia was inactive for the first six weeks of the season.
"I was just happy to see me on film," the rookie joked.
If Winfield is unable to play this week, those three guys will again have their hands full in Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers, Donald Driver and Greg Jennings. Childress said Winfield is still getting treatment, and the coach is not ruling out one of his toughest players from accompanying Brett Favre to Lambeau Field this week.
There is no doubt that the Vikings have more confidence in Paymah and Co. to do the job in his place this week. Winfield was injured in the second quarter two weeks ago against Baltimore, and Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco torched Paymah in a 196-yard fourth quarter.
But after having a week of practice to prepare with the starting defense, Paymah looked much more comfortable in his role this time around.
"We had to really bond as a unit coming into the game and had to really just man up," Paymah said. "We had a lot of key guys down and a lot of guys had to be accountable. A lot of young guys stepped up and everybody just came together, believed in each other and the secondary just went out there and had a solid game."
Ward entered the game leading the NFL in receiving yards. But Roethlisberger only threw in his direction three times during a game in which the Steelers had the ball for only 23 minutes.
Allen made an impact in his first career game, racing in from the right side on a blitz in the fourth quarter to sack Roethlisberger and force a fumble.
"Coaches have always instilled the attitude that whenever it's your time to come, make sure that you produce when you go in there and I wanted to make sure I didn't let the team down when I was in there," Allen said.
Sapp has been the team's regular nickelback all season, but veteran linebacker Ben Leber was particularly impressed by Allen and Paymah filling in after spending most of the first six games on the bench.
"I thought they played great. They both stepped up, pressure situations, huge game," Leber said. "Not getting a lot of reps beforehand in real live situations, so I thought they came out and performed very well."
The next big challenge comes on Sunday. Rodgers and the Packers shredded the Browns in a 31-3 victory last week. Rodgers threw for 246 yards and three scores, including a 71-yarder to Driver. He has the second-highest quarterback rating in the league behind Peyton Manning.
"Rodgers is definitely going to test us. He's going to put the ball in the air," Paymah said. "This is a big game for us. A division game. And this is all that's on our minds. This is our Super Bowl for the first half of the season."