GREEN BAY – To find a mid-November Packers-Vikings game that meant this much to both teams, you have to go all the way back to 2004.
When you do, it gets a little spooky.
Eleven years ago, the first matchup of the season between the border rivals was in Week 10, one week earlier than this year. The Vikings had begun the season 5-1 but were coming in on a two-game losing streak, while the Packers had rallied from a 1-4 start to win three straight.
This year, it's the Packers going the wrong way, with a three-game losing streak after a 6-0 start, while the Vikings were 2-2 before winning five in a row.
That game on Nov. 14, 2004, turned into a shootout. Quarterbacks Brett Favre and Daunte Culpepper each threw four TD passes, and the Packers prevailed, 34-31, on Ryan Longwell's 33-yard field goal at the gun.
It's hard to imagine a repeat of that type of game, with the Packers offense in a slump and the Vikings ranking second in the league in scoring defense. Anything is possible, of course.
But the history-vs.-now weirdness doesn't stop there.
Back then, the Packers and Vikings met again in Week 16, on Christmas Eve, with the NFC North title on the line at the Metrodome. This year's rematch is slated for Week 17, three days into the new year, at Lambeau Field, and playoff implications of some sort very likely will be at stake.
At this point, if that game is for the NFC North crown again, the Packers would take it. That would mean they've most likely won this Sunday's game, because losing to the Vikings and making up two games in the standings in five weeks before the rematch would be a very tall order.
Why would Green Bay have to make up two games in five weeks with a loss? Because last week's defeat to the Lions has the Packers behind in the division-record tiebreaker. The only way the Packers make up ground there is if the Vikings lose at home to the Bears in Week 15. That's Minnesota's lone remaining division game aside from those vs. Green Bay, as the Vikings have already beaten the Lions twice and the Bears once.
Let's be honest, though. Week 17 and tiebreaker scenarios are the furthest things from the Packers' minds right now. Their much ballyhooed fast start is ancient history and the turnaround needs to begin now.
"We need a win, man," veteran receiver James Jones said. "We need a win, period."
The script is flipped from 11 years ago. The Packers are the cold team needing a jolt, and the Vikings are the hot team everyone's trying to cool off.
"It's a grind. These are the type of games you like. These define the team," Julius Peppers said. "These are the times you come together. You recognize the situation for what it is, and it builds character. It builds the team."
Well said, but a few final words on this 2004 thread:
That Christmas Eve rematch? The Packers won it by an identical 34-31 score on another last-second Longwell kick to take the division title, only to see the Vikings come back and pull an upset in the wild-card playoffs in Green Bay.
So, this Sunday's game in Minneapolis is by no means the last word on the rivalry this season, and Week 17 might not be, either.