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There's Packers history worth appreciating Sunday

Pair of longtime foes visiting Lambeau Field together with Lions

RB Adrian Peterson and QB Matthew Stafford
RB Adrian Peterson and QB Matthew Stafford

GREEN BAY – History doesn't converge like this very often, if ever.

Certain players on division rivals naturally rack up a lot of appearances against the Packers because they face off twice per season. Rivalry games will feature such a player that a team has battled, seemingly, countless times.

Former Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton started 28 games against Green Bay. Bears running back Walter Payton squared off against the Packers 24 times. Including playoffs, for Lions running back Barry Sanders it was 21 games and for Vikings receiver Randy Moss 17, counting his late-career stop in San Francisco.

But rarely do two familiar foes with such long, productive histories against one team wind up together in the same game after all these years.

Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford and running back Adrian Peterson present that unusual duo Sunday at Lambeau Field.

Stafford, of course, has spent his entire career with the Lions since being drafted No. 1 overall in 2009, while Peterson was drafted by the Vikings No. 7 overall in 2007. They've now joined forces as Peterson is extending his Hall of Fame career with his fifth team, and third one to face Green Bay.

Sunday will mark Stafford's 19th game against the Packers dating back to his rookie year, and while that's a long way from Tarkenton's 28, he's still in a very historic place statistically.

Last year in his one meeting with the Packers before he got injured, Stafford surpassed Tarkenton for the most passing yards against the Packers in their history, becoming the first to eclipse 5,000 yards. He's at 5,186 and counting to Tarkenton's 4,978.

Stafford did not throw a touchdown pass in that game, though, keeping him tied for first with Johnny Unitas atop that category, with 34 vs. Green Bay. Unitas faced the Packers 23 times. Tarkenton is right behind on that TD passes list with 33.

Stafford's career record against the Packers is 7-11, but it comes with two caveats. The first is he's above .500 against Green Bay since starting 0-6, as he didn't get his first win in the series until Thanksgiving Day in 2013. But therein lies the other, as that win is one of four for him when Aaron Rodgers didn't play.

Be that as it may, the Packers aren't as concerned with records and matchups as much as they are Stafford's arm talent and command of the game. Both Head Coach Matt LaFleur and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine in separate interviews this week referred to Stafford as a highly underrated pro who doesn't get due credit on the national stage.

Here's the stat for Sunday that may matter more than any other: The Packers haven't intercepted a Stafford pass since 2016. Over his last five games against Green Bay, he's attempted 142 passes without a pick, and they haven't intercepted him twice in a game since 2014.

Strangely, given Stafford ranks fifth among active QBs with 28 fourth-quarter comebacks, none of his seven wins against Green Bay has been of the late-comeback variety. The Packers saw on film he should have notched No. 29 last week, but his winning TD pass against the Bears was dropped in the end zone in the final seconds.

"He's poised, he's confident, he's seen it all and he's had an entire game at that point to get a sense for what you're in," Pettine said of Stafford's penchant for crunch-time efficiency. "By the time you get to a two-minute (drive) late in the game, you've usually emptied the gun.

"You have to find a way that you can at least put some shred of doubt in their minds. If they know what you're in, then you're going to get diced up."

Peterson has done his share of carving up the Packers at times. In 20 career games, including one playoff contest, he's topped 100 rushing yards nine times (with two other games in the high 90s). His most recent 100-yard game against the Packers came with Washington in 2018.

His nine 100-yard games rank third against the Packers in team history, behind Payton (13) and Sanders (11, incl. one postseason). He's also third behind them in rushing yards against Green Bay, with 1,975 in the regular season (2,074 incl. playoffs), and second in rushing TDs behind Payton with 16.

Payton had 2,484 rushing yards and 19 TDs vs. the Packers, while Sanders had 2,059 yards (2,227 incl. playoffs) but just seven TDs.

The respect for Peterson is a given, and any hope or doubt he might have lost a step was erased last week, when he rushed 14 times for 93 yards against Chicago despite signing with Detroit just a week before the opener.

"He's that guy, kind of in my generation playing in this league the last 15 years, to me he's the most talented back we've seen," Rodgers said. "Not many people that can combine speed, power, moves all in one, and you hated seeing him get out in the open field because he rarely got caught. He just had all the tools as a back, and he's still got most of the tools."

So, all told, two longtime rivals will be playing their combined 40th career game against the Packers, looking to add to more than 7,000 collective passing and rushing yards, and to their combined 50 touchdowns.

There may be another round of this when the Packers visit Detroit in Week 14, but no one ever knows.

Two rivals who hold special places in Packers lore facing Green Bay together at Lambeau Field? It's history worth appreciating.

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