Packers Know Importance Of Vikings Rematch

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To suggest that the Green Bay Packers didn't desperately want to win the 2003 season opener against the Minnesota Vikings would be an insult.

But as offensive guard Mike Wahle looked back on it this week, he conceded that maybe the Packers didn't want it desperately enough. Or at least not as much as the Vikings, who jumped out to a 27-3 lead that September afternoon before holding off a late Packers charge to win 30-25.

"(Vikings tackle Bryant) McKinnie said that was their Super Bowl," Wahle said. "That was their biggest game of the year."

That might have been hard to believe in Week 1, but it's easier to understand now.

Minnesota's impressive win over the defending NFC North champions seemed to trigger a reversal of fortunes, so that now, as both teams prepare for their Sunday night rematch, it's the Vikings atop the division at 6-1, with the 3-4 Packers struggling to catch up.

"This is a huge game for us, a huge game," Wahle said. "It has to be the biggest game of the year for us, especially with the situation we've put ourselves in with our record. We need to respond and have a good victory in a tough place to play."

When these teams met at Lambeau Field in September, it was the Vikings who had something to prove. The Packers were coming off their second consecutive 12-4 season, while the Vikings' 6-10 effort in 2002 marked their second straight losing campaign.

Now the stakes are unmistakably different. If Minnesota's Week 1 win proved that it could be a contender, the Packers could use Week 9 win to show that they won't easily hand over their crown.

"If we want any chance of winning the division, we need to win this game," offensive tackle Mark Tauscher said. "We need to look at this as a one-game shot. We need to put all our eggs in this basket to see where we're at."

As important as the game is to the Packers' divisional hopes, a loss wouldn't eliminate them from playoff contention.

A 9-6 record got the Atlanta Falcons into the post-season last year, and the Packers only have to go 6-3 down the stretch to accomplish that.

Thus, it might be more important this weekend for the Packers to play like a team bound for the playoffs than to actually take another step toward getting there.

"All you have to do is get your foot in the playoff door," center Mike Flanagan said. "If we can come out strong in the second half of the season, who knows? I doubt Minnesota's going to win out. They might, but I doubt it.

"We just have to play every game. If we play like (crap), then we're not going anywhere. If we play well, we get in."

Although practices have been closed to the media this week, GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman said an emphasis has been placed upon some of the very things that caused problems for the Packers in Week 1: turnovers (the Packers had 5) and third-down conversions (the Packers converted 5-of-10 offensively, while allowing 8-of-14).

A win in Minnesota would be only the third for the Packers since 1992, when Brett Favre became the starting quarterback.

Of course, in September it was the Vikings who picked up just their second win at Lambeau Field in their last 10 trips.

The season-opening upset shaped the division race up to this point. The Packers are hoping that a return upset could send the momentum swinging right back.

"Historically speaking, we haven't had a lot of success (in the Metrodome)," Tauscher said. "If we go up there and play well and get a big win, our confidence will be through the roof and we'll be able to use this as a springboard."

This time, it's the Packers with something to prove.

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