Day-After Notes: Packers Hope To Be Hitting Stride At Right Time

Heading into this team’s biggest regular-season game since traveling to Dallas in late November of 2007, the Packers seem to be in the best possible frame of mind. They’re coming off of two convincing wins during which the offense rolled up almost 900 yards, the defense didn’t allow a TD, and the team is in position to catch the Vikings atop the division. - More Mike McCarthy Press Conference Transcript - Oct. 26


Heading into what ranks as this team's biggest regular-season game since traveling to Dallas in late November of 2007, the Packers seem to be in the best possible frame of mind right now.

The Packers prepare for Sunday afternoon's showdown with NFC North-leading Minnesota, and former quarterback Brett Favre's return to Lambeau Field, coming off of two convincing victories during which the offense rolled up almost 900 yards, the defense didn't allow a touchdown, and the team is in position to catch the Vikings atop the division.

"Our confidence is high, and it damn well should be," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said on Monday. "We're growing as a football team. We're coming forward with the targets we're trying to hit. It's looking the way you want it to look week in and week out."

The Packers have beaten the Lions and Browns the last two games by a combined score of 57-3 to improve to 4-2, while the Vikings just lost their first game of the season on Sunday and are 6-1. Should the Packers extend their winning streak to three games and the Vikings' losing streak to two, they would tie Minnesota in the loss column and have a chance to pull into a full-fledged tie for first place with a trip to winless Tampa Bay the following week while the Vikings are on their bye.

To have that chance is significant when just three weeks ago the Vikings beat the Packers 30-23 on a Monday night in the Metrodome to drop Green Bay to 2-2 and pull two games ahead at the season's quarter-pole.

Even after this week's game, there's still more than half the season left for the Packers. But their division-title hopes would take a major hit should they lose to the Vikings this week. Not only would they be two games back in the loss column again, but Minnesota would have a season sweep and any head-to-had tiebreaker, meaning Green Bay would have to pick up three games on the Vikings over the season's final nine weeks to get first place in the North.

But much of that is for later discussion. Of more immediate concern is whether or not the Packers have improved enough since that seven-point defeat the Metrodome on Oct. 5, when they shut down running back Adrian Peterson, but Favre was on his game (135.3 QB rating) and the Minnesota defense sacked Aaron Rodgers eight times.

McCarthy believes the team is better, following its most impressive all-around win of the season in Cleveland, admittedly against a struggling team.

On offense, Ryan Grant rushed for a season-high 148 yards while Rodgers posted a career-best, franchise-record and near-perfect passer rating (155.4) and wasn't sacked for the first time this season.

"He was kidding me today (about) what does he have to do to get a game ball around here," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said of Rodgers. "He had a 155 rating yesterday. He has a 5½-to-1 TD-to-interception ratio, that's pretty darn good. The number one thing he's doing is he's performing well, he's taking his job seriously, he's very professional in preparation, and it's paid dividends. He's performing well."

Can Rodgers and the offense do the same against a much more formidable defense in Minnesota? It will be a valuable gauge for the 2009 Packers at the midway point.

"We have to find out where we're at," Philbin said. "We're certainly not sitting here thinking we have all the answers on offense. We played well (Sunday). There's a lot of football left to be played this season, and we're going to have a great challenge and I think our guys will look forward to it."

On defense, the Packers held the Browns to less than three yards per rush, limited quarterback Derek Anderson to 7-for-24 passing after a 5-for-5 start, and generated two turnovers that produced 10 points.

But the first go-round against the Vikings, the Packers got no turnovers and were gashed for four big pass plays that gained 24 or more yards, each by a different Minnesota receiver. Limiting those explosive, momentum-changing plays is a major priority in the rematch.

"They had four big plays in that game that really turned the whole tide of the game around, and when you're playing a good opponent like that, you can't do that," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said.

"That's really been the difference the last couple weeks. You haven't seen the ball thrown down the field much on us."

And no one has seen the Packers play any better in 2009, so far.

"Confidence is a big part of this business and our confidence has definitely grown," McCarthy said.

"They're a good football team; we're a good football team. I think it's going to be a hell of a game."

Depleted receiving corps

Tight end Jermichael Finley's knee sprain makes him a "long shot" to play this week, while No. 4 receiver Brett Swain will have season-ending knee surgery following an injury on kickoff coverage Sunday.

That leaves the Packers with just two tight ends in Donald Lee and Spencer Havner and three healthy wide receivers in Donald Driver, Greg Jennings and James Jones because receiver Jordy Nelson (knee) won't be available this week.

While Havner, with his 45-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter, picked up some of the slack with Finley out, the team does plan to add another pass-catcher to the roster before Wednesday's practice.

McCarthy said the personnel department is looking at all the options at the moment, including the possible signing of receiver Jake Allen from the practice squad.

O-line update

At this point, the Packers are going to plan to start the same offensive line against the Vikings that they did this past week. That unit included Scott Wells at center for Jason Spitz (back) and rookie T.J. Lang at left tackle for Chad Clifton (ankle).

{sportsad300}Spitz was on the active 45-man gameday roster on Sunday as a backup but hasn't played since the Minnesota game in Week 4. McCarthy said he was going to have some more tests on his lower back but hoped to be "out of the woods."

Clifton, who has now missed 3½ games with two ankle sprains, is scheduled to continue to rehab on Wednesday and Thursday this week with an eye toward possibly practicing on Friday to see if he could play in the game.

But McCarthy isn't counting on either player to be fully healthy and ready to resume their starting roles, and with the offensive line coming off its best performance of the season - clearing the way for 202 rushing yards and not allowing any sacks - he's not going to change anything unless he can be sure there are no health issues.

"As far as the health of these guys, that's the priority," McCarthy said. "The people we finished the game with, that will be the starting point for us in our game planning tonight and tomorrow."

Added Philbin: "We have to figure out who's available, who can practice, and that will dictate where guys are and where we're heading."

One other injury

The only other injury to come out of the Cleveland game was a hamstring strain to backup safety and special teamer Derrick Martin. He's expected to miss some practice time this week and his availability for the game isn't certain.

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