When they faced the Minnesota Vikings last month, the Green Bay Packers had Aaron Rodgers to help them pull away for a fourth straight win.
With Rodgers out because of a broken collarbone, the Packers have lost three straight since that victory, and rookie Scott Tolzien is expected to start again for Sunday’s rematch with the visiting Vikings.
Rodgers threw two touchdowns to Jordy Nelson, including the tiebreaking 76-yarder in the second quarter, in a 44-31 victory at Minnesota on Oct. 27. The Packers star quarterback got hurt the next week in the opening minutes of a loss to Chicago, and the team has struggled to get back into the groove with Seneca Wallace and Tolzien.
After Wallace suffered a season-ending groin injury against Philadelphia, Tolzien threw for 339 yards in his first NFL start last Sunday but was intercepted three times in a 27-13 defeat to the New York Giants. One of those interceptions was returned for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter and helped seal the win for the Giants.
Tolzien, part of Green Bay’s practice squad earlier this month, has five interceptions and one touchdown in his first two NFL games.
“He has a lot of good football ahead of him, but the reality is, and he knows this more than anybody, he has to take care of the football,” coach Mike McCarthy said.
McCarthy has waited until Friday in the past two weeks to rule out Rodgers and gave himself some cushion by saying Tolzien “would go into the week as the starter.” Rodgers said on his radio show Tuesday that he wouldn’t play unless he could practice at least two days before a game.
The Packers (5-5) next play on Thanksgiving against Detroit but first will try to at least keep pace in the NFC North. The Lions and Bears are both 6-4.
Green Bay has won seven of the last eight matchups with Minnesota (2-8), including a 24-10 victory in last year’s playoff opener at Lambeau Field. The Packers have won 15 of the past 19 regular-season meetings in Green Bay, including three in a row.
They are looking to avoid losing three consecutive home games for the first time since dropping their first three in 2006.
“Extremely important football game this week,” McCarthy said. “It’s a division game, it’s a home game. We’ve had two home games get away from us. Part of the formula for success in any football season is winning your home games.
“We need to play better. We need to perform better. We need to prepare better.”
Like McCarthy, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier has used three quarterbacks this season, and Christian Ponder will remain the starter despite being pulled from a 41-20 loss in Seattle last Sunday. Ponder committed three turnovers and was replaced by Matt Cassel in the fourth quarter.
Ponder led the Vikings to one of their two wins, 34-27 over Washington on Nov. 7, before having to leave after dislocating his non-throwing shoulder.
“I’m excited to be out there again. I’m ready to go and healthy,” he said. “When the pressure is on, I’ve stepped up. At other times, I haven’t. I need to be more consistent.”
Ponder didn’t commit a turnover last month against Green Bay but threw for just 145 yards. He’s gone 28 of 59 for 309 yards with three interceptions in losing both of his starts at Lambeau, though he missed the playoff matchup with a bruised right triceps.
In this visit, Ponder faces a Green Bay defense that could be missing cornerbacks Casey Hayward and Sam Shields. Both are dealing with hamstring issues.
Those absences could benefit Vikings wide receiver Greg Jennings if he’s healthy enough to play in his return to Lambeau. Jennings spent seven seasons with Green Bay before signing a five-year deal with Minnesota in the offseason but sat out last week’s game due to an Achilles injury.
Adrian Peterson enters his 100th career regular-season game 149 rushing yards shy of his sixth 1,000-yard season. He’s been held to 130 on 41 attempts over the past two weeks, and the reigning MVP ran for 60 against the Packers last month but had only 13 carries.
Peterson rushed for 409 yards in two regular-season meetings last year before getting 99 in the playoff loss.
The Packers’ losing streak is their longest since a five-game skid Nov. 24-Dec. 22, 2008.