Notebook: Next Two Games Loom Large For Division Title Hopes

When the 2008 regular season comes to an end, the Packers will likely look at their back-to-back games at Minnesota and vs. Chicago the next two weeks as a crucial stretch that helped determine the outcome of the NFC North race. - More Mike McCarthy Press Conference Transcript - Nov. 7


When the 2008 regular season comes to an end, the Packers will likely look at their back-to-back games at Minnesota and vs. Chicago the next two weeks as a crucial stretch that helped determine the outcome of the NFC North race.

The Packers and Vikings enter Sunday's matchup tied for second in the division at 4-4, trailing the Chicago Bears (5-3) by one game with half the season remaining. Green Bay heads to Minnesota with two divisional wins in its pocket after opening up the '08 campaign with victories against the Vikings and at Detroit.

"This game is the most important game this year so far," defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said. "We have to win this if we are going to be competitive in our division. We want to win our division; we definitely have to win this game."

During Head Coach Mike McCarthy's first two years as head coach, the Packers have come on strong the second half of the season, going 13-5 (.722) in the final two months, including an 8-1 mark last year.

"It really can set things up for you as far as making a playoff run right now," linebacker Brady Poppinga said. "We're very evenly matched and it's going to be one of those games you are going to want to tune into because it's going to be very entertaining to the very end."

The games between Green Bay and Minnesota have been just that in recent memory, with 11 of the last 12 being decided by seven points or less, including six by three or less.

If the Packers are able to win their next two games, they will assure themselves of not only a first-place tie with the Bears, who host undefeated Tennessee on Sunday, but would also earn a sweep of the Vikings and at least a split with the Bears and the Lions. Green Bay will end their season at Chicago (Dec. 22) on Monday Night Football and vs. Detroit (Dec. 30) at Lambeau Field.

But for Green Bay, the quest for their second straight NFC North title starts Sunday at the Metrodome.

"This is our season," Pickett said. "We really feel like we have to come out and play well this game and the next one. We feel like we will. We feel confident and we are getting better.

"Things didn't go our way last week, but we are pretty confident with where we are headed."

Back in action

Cornerback Charles Woodson, who has been limited in practice all season because of a fractured toe sustained in the season-opening win over Minnesota, was a full participant in practice on Friday for the first time in over two months.

Coincidentally enough, that Sept. 5 practice led up to the Packers' first matchup with the Vikings. Woodson said he felt good last week but decided to test out his toe with a full practice on Friday.

"You've got to hear everybody talking about, 'Who is the new guy out at practice?'", Woodson said. "It felt good to get out there and run around today.

"I've been playing without wrapping it. Today I ran out there without cutting a hole in my shoe, so it's as much as normal as it could be."

Woodson said the full practice participation not only benefits him, but also the entire defense as they work to get their timing down.

"The one thing that helps is just being with your teammates and being in those situations that you know you are going to be in during the game," Woodson said. "Everybody is on the same page going into Sunday, so it feels good just to get that down with the guys."

Since Woodson came to the Packers in 2006, his normal practice routine when battling injuries is to have limited participation on Wednesday and Thursday, with a full practice on Friday.

"We can finally get back to that and get back to a regular routine," Woodson said. "Sitting out all week is fine, but I really do like to at least get that one day in."

A day of rest

McCarthy said quarterback Aaron Rodgers did not throw at all in Friday's practice based on the recommendation of the team's medical staff.

McCarthy said Rodgers threw more on Wednesday and Thursday this week than he has in a two-day period since he sustained the right shoulder injury in Week 4 at Tampa Bay.

"I'm not worried about him," McCarthy said. "I talked to him. He feels he'll be fine. They were concerned about the level of soreness that he had from throwing. That's exactly what they told me."

{sportsad300}Another different look

In the Packers' sixth game against Minnesota in McCarthy's tenure as head coach on Sunday, the Vikings will have their fifth different quarterback in those six matchups.

Tarvaris Jackson started in the season opener on Monday Night Football at Green Bay, but was benched in favor of veteran Gus Frerotte starting with Minnesota's game vs. Carolina in Week 3. Frerotte has a 4-2 record as the starter this season.

Last season the Packers saw veteran Kelly Holcomb start at quarterback in the Week 4 matchup at the Metrodome and then Brooks Bollinger got the opening nod at Green Bay in Week 10. In 2006, Brad Johnson got the start at the Metrodome with Jackson opening up in the late-season matchup at Lambeau Field.

Green Bay has a 5-0 record against Minnesota under McCarthy.

Injury/participation update

In addition to Rodgers and Woodson, linebacker Desmond Bishop (hamstring) and tackle Chad Clifton (knees) were also listed as probable.

For the Vikings, defensive end Jared Allen (shoulder) was limited in practice on Friday and is doubtful for Sunday.

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