Reigning MVP Makes Rare Visit To Lambeau

It’s not every week the reigning NFL MVP comes to play in your backyard. In fact, with running back LaDainian Tomlinson leading the Chargers into Green Bay, Sunday will mark just the second time this decade that the reigning league MVP will play at Lambeau Field, and it provides some extra motivation. - More Audio | Video | Packers-Chargers Game Center


While the Packers have spent much of this week downplaying how much of a so-called litmus test Sunday's game against AFC power San Diego will be, make no mistake about how geared up they are, particularly on defense.

After all, it's not every week the reigning NFL MVP comes to play in your backyard. In fact, with running back LaDainian Tomlinson leading the Chargers into Green Bay, Sunday will mark just the second time this decade that the reigning league MVP will play at Lambeau Field, and it provides some extra motivation, litmus test or not.

"Of course," linebacker Brady Poppinga said. "He's the best. Regardless if he's MVP or whoever, he's a great player, and you want to play against great players. That's the essence of football is competition, and competition against the greatest is what you look for and strive for and want to be a part of."

The last time the reigning MVP came to Green Bay was in 2004. Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair, who was named co-MVP along with Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning in 2003, returned from an injury for a Monday night game at Lambeau Field and threw for 206 yards and two touchdowns as the Titans blew out the Packers, 48-27.

The Packers have faced the reigning MVP just three other times this decade and haven't fared much better.

St. Louis running back Marshall Faulk, the 2000 MVP, had 129 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown in the Rams' 45-17 playoff victory following the 2001 season. Just two weeks before the game against McNair in 2004, Manning lit the Packers up for 393 passing yards and five TDs in a 45-31 Colts win. And last year, 2005 MVP Shaun Alexander rushed for 201 yards to lead the Seahawks to a 34-24 win.

That's a track record the Packers would love to shift, beginning this Sunday, but like all MVPs, Tomlinson presents a huge challenge. Last season, he posted a career-high 2,323 yards from scrimmage, including a league-best 1,815 rushing yards. He broke Paul Hornung's single-season scoring record and Alexander's single-season touchdown record with 31 TDs (28 rushing, three receiving), and he added two touchdown passes on halfback option throws.

"He does it all," Poppinga said. "He's fast, he's quick, he's agile, he jumps over guys, he has eyes behind his head, he does front flips, he does back flips, he's a Ninja, he disappears, he reappears.

"I'm just being facetious. But he's great. He does it all."

How Tomlinson's slow start to 2007 will play into Sunday's game remains to be seen. In San Diego's first two games, the Chicago Bears and New England Patriots have held Tomlinson to just 68 total rushing yards on 35 carries, or just 1.9 yards per carry. His long run is just 11 yards.

Primarily for that reason, the Chargers have scored just 14 points in each of their first two games, though it was enough to beat the Bears in Week 1.

With the Packers believing their defense is reaching the caliber of those in Chicago and New England, perhaps there are schemes and alignments to be learned from the film of those two games that they can employ against San Diego.

"Teams have presented a lot of different looks at them, making them unsure what they're going to get," Poppinga said. "That presents any offense a challenge. When they don't know what's coming it puts them behind the 8-ball. I think these two teams before have done very well, kept them off-balance, showing them looks they didn't expect."

{sportsad300}Then again, it could be just a matter of time before Tomlinson, and a Chargers' offense that also includes one of the league's premier tight ends in Antonio Gates and a Pro Bowl quarterback in Philip Rivers, busts loose.

Tomlinson, who threw his seventh career TD pass against Chicago, told reporters during a conference call this week that he feels once the offense gets the passing game going, things will open up for him because defenses won't be able to stack as many defenders in the box. He noted the team is still adjusting to new head coach Norv Turner as well, so there's no panic setting in despite the early struggles on offense.

"Norv is just getting used to what guys do well, what we do well as a team," Tomlinson said. "So once that's figured out, then I think everything else will go pretty good for us."

The Packers would like nothing better than to keep Tomlinson, and the Chargers' offense, in low gear for another week. The defense is off to a strong start, having allowed just one touchdown and 13 points in each of its first two games against the likes of Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook, and the New York Giants' Jeremy Shockey and Plaxico Burress.

So it's not as though the defense feels it needs some exotic scheme to get the job done this week.

"You just have to play defense," middle linebacker Nick Barnett said. "We can't get out of control, trying to double this, double that, and start confusing ourselves by doing that stuff. We're just going to do what we do against their offense, and make adjustments on the run."

Whether or not an MVP might force a few more adjustments than normal will be discovered come Sunday.

"Last week we played Shockey, he's a great tight end," Barnett said. "This week we play Gates, LaDainian Tomlinson. They're players. Every team you play, they have playmakers. It's a test every week.

"That's what it's all about, playing guys like that. If we played bums every week, this game wouldn't be fun. We'd just go out there and dominate. Playing players like this is what makes the game fun."

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