Packers 8-0, defense could give Vikes a chance
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Going into Monday night's game against the Minnesota Vikings, the feeling is becoming familiar for the Green Bay Packers: Another week, another win, another uneasy feeling about the state of the defense.
The reigning Super Bowl champions are the NFL's only undefeated team at 8-0 and have won a franchise-record 14 straight games going back to last season, including playoffs. It has been so long since the Packers actually lost a game that defensive players now seem to be stewing about substandard performances in victories the same way they might after a loss.
That certainly was the case after the Packers' Oct. 23 victory at Minnesota, where Green Bay allowed rookie quarterback Christian Ponder to play with poise in his first career start and gave up 175 yards to Adrian Peterson.
"Last time, we didn't feel like we played as good as we could have played in Minnesota," defensive lineman Ryan Pickett said. "We feel like we could have put it away, and then we kind of let them back in the game. 'AP' rushed for 175 yards. We felt sick after we even won that game. So this is a good opportunity for us to right our wrongs."
Going into the second game between the two division rivals in less than a month, the Packers are giving up 299.6 yards passing per game this season, second-most in the NFL behind New England. They nearly coughed up a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter of last Sunday's win at San Diego.
The Packers remain dominant on offense behind Aaron Rodgers. And while their defense does lead the NFL with 16 interceptions and has been good enough to win all eight games so far, the porous nature of their pass defense means they can't take anybody for granted.
"If you look at it, it's kind of good," Pickett said. "We're feeling sick and we're 8-0. We definitely know we've got a lot of room to grow, and we know we're going to get there. Especially as a defensive unit, we have segments of great games, but we have yet to put a complete game, the way we want to play, out there. We know it's coming, and we're going to just keep fighting til we get there."
Ponder helped Minnesota beat Carolina two weeks ago for his first career win — the Vikings had a bye last week — and he sees no reason why the Vikings can't make it a game Monday night.
"That's kind of what their defense is, bend but don't break," Ponder said. "They've given up some yards but not a lot of scoring. Obviously my two mistakes I had last game, you've got to be careful with the ball but capitalize with the opportunities we're given. I think as the offense if we do things right we can be pretty good."
And Ponder says he can play better than he did in his first career start.
"The biggest thing is we kept it close, which should give us the confidence that we can hang in with those guys," Ponder said. "Completion percent around 40 percent's not good. Two turnovers isn't good. So, there's a lot to fix there. But still, with a 40 percent completion rating with two interceptions and we still had the ability to win the game, I think that's a good sign."
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier has no concerns about Ponder's poise going into a prime-time road game.
"To come out there in your first start against the defending Super Bowl champions and play as well as he play and to make some of the plays that he made in the fourth quarter, just gives you the idea that he can handle adverse situations, he can handle being on the road and playing well like he did against Carolina," Frazier said. "I don't foresee him being in a situation on Monday Night where you go, 'Oh, this is not a good situation for Christian.' I just don't foresee that."
The Packers still will be most worried about stopping Peterson, who says the Vikings are comfortable with Ponder at quarterback.
"I really think the sky's the limit for him with what he has shown in the past two weeks before the bye," Peterson said. "I feel like we can do some really good things. We just can't keep doing things that hurt us. Offensively, defensively, make sure we're eliminating some penalties and make sure we take advantage of the opportunities that present (themselves)."
Peterson is plenty impressed with Rodgers, who threw for 335 yards and three touchdowns with an 80 percent completion rate on Oct. 23.
"I feel like he's the best quarterback in the league," Peterson said. "I've always like Rodgers, even before he blew up. I could see the potential in him, just how he played, the attitude he played with. His passion shows. So it's not really surprising to me."
The Vikings' defense will welcome back cornerback Antoine Winfield, who is set to return to the starting lineup after missing the last four games because of a neck injury. Defensive end Jared Allen leads the NFL with 12 1/2 sacks and Rodgers was sacked four times by San Diego, some of which were the result of good downfield coverage.
Still, stopping Rodgers will be a tough test for the Vikings. Linebacker E.J. Henderson made it sound like he'd rather be facing Brett Favre.
"He's pretty hot right now," Henderson said of Rodgers. "Even Brett in his (heyday) when we used to play the Packers he was still good for a couple three interceptions here and there. I definitely think he's playing at a high level, we all know that, we know what a challenge it's going to be for us Monday to come out and slow him down but we're looking forward to it."