The Minnesota Vikings have fought their way through adversity both on and off the field to get into contention in the NFC North.
They hope the next step is the .500 mark as the Vikings play the division rival Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.
Minnesota struggled to a 1-4 start as the offense adjusted slowly without Randy Moss and allegations of sexual misconduct on a party boat cast a pall over the team. The season began to turn around with a 23-20 victory in Week 7 over the Packers as Daunte Culpepper threw two second-half touchdown passes to erase a 17-point halftime deficit.
Culpepper, though, suffered a season-ending knee injury in a loss to Carolina the following game, leaving the Vikings at a crossroads. Minnesota has responded with back-to-back wins, including last week’s 24-21 road victory in which the Vikings became the first team in NFL history to score touchdowns via interception, kickoff and punt return.
“We have had some new leaders step up and do a nice job leading our team,” coach Mike Tice said. “That’s important because you can’t keep them in the building, regardless of what everybody wants you to do, until midnight every night because that’s training camp and we don’t have training camp.
“When they leave the building, the leaders have got to lead them, and we have had some new leaders step up, which is an important sign of growing up as a football team.”
Quarterback Brad Johnson has been effective running a conservative offense, completing 45 of 80 passes for 442 yards and three touchdowns without an interception since replacing Culpepper. But Johnson is averaging only 5.3 yards per pass attempt, and the Giants exploited his inability to stretch the defense by stacking the line of scrimmage and limiting the Vikings to 12 rushing yards.
Minnesota has totaled just 663 total yards in 11 quarters with Johnson as quarterback.
The Packers hope they are heading in the right direction after snapping a three-game losing streak with a surprising 33-25 road win last Sunday over the Atlanta Falcons. Fifth-string running back Samkon Gado ran for 103 yards and two touchdowns as Green Bay topped 100 yards rushing for the first time since Week 2.
Gado was fortunate to have teammates recover both of his fumbles, and coach Mike Sherman warned further problems holding onto the ball would put the rookie back on the bench.
“He put the ball on the ground twice, which is very frustrating,” Sherman said. “If those weren’t recovered by our guys we wouldn’t necessarily be talking about him right now. That could have been the turning point in the ballgame.”
The emergence of Gado allowed quarterback Brett Favre, who threw for 252 yards and a touchdown, to balance the offense. The Packers now will get back starting wide receiver Robert Ferguson and second-string tight end Donald Martin, who both missed the last three games due to injury.
“Those guys have been starters, (and) have been a productive part of our offense,” Sherman said. “It gives you more flexibility within your scheme to call and do different things.”
Wide receiver Donald Driver has 19 receptions for 276 yards and two touchdowns in his last two games against the Vikings, but both contests were at the Metrodome. In five lifetime games against Minnesota at Lambeau Field, he has only seven catches for 80 yards.
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