HomeFootball DirtPackers and Vikings set to face off in crucial rematch following months...

Packers and Vikings set to face off in crucial rematch following months of anticipation and adversity

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Vikings were enjoying the rarity of a dominant afternoon in Green Bay two months ago, continuing their ascent from an early hole while Packers quarterback Jordan Love’s struggles persisted.

Then came the step gone wrong by Kirk Cousins on the Lambeau Field grass. Neither team has been the same since.

The Vikings have switched quarterbacks four times — this week back to rookie Jaren Hall — and been stuck in a constant mode of plugging in new starters for injured players all over the field.

“We’ve worked through it as a staff, trying to kind of adjust and adapt to what we think is going to give us the best chance to win games, based on the personnel we do have for that particular week, and it’s been different at different times,” Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell said. “That’s our job as coaches, to continue to find ways to be competitive and find ways to win football games.”

While Love has given the Packers new life with his performance over the last eight games after the 24-10 loss to the Vikings on Oct. 29 dropped their record to 2-5, the injuries have piled around him. The defense has faltered badly, too.

“Who knows how long it’s going to take, but I think the exciting part about it is some of those mistakes we were making early on in the season, now we’ve corrected those things and we’re turning them into big-time plays,” Love said.

These late-season games between the longtime border-state rivals have frequently meant a division title was on the line, but the Detroit Lions took care of that by clinching the NFC North with their 30-24 win over the Vikings last week.

The Packers and Vikings are both 7-8, one game out of a wild-card spot, but the loser Sunday night at U.S. Bank Stadium can likely forget about making the playoffs. This is just the third season in 17 years that the division won’t go to either the Packers or the Vikings.

“It’s always a rollercoaster when you have different quarterbacks like this and the injuries we’ve had on this football team, but I’m still very proud to be a Minnesota Viking, and it’s still really awesome to be in December playing an important football game,” left guard Dalton Risner said.

LOVE STORY

Love completed just 58.5% of his passes for 229 yards with one touchdown and one interception against the Vikings earlier this year. He has 16 touchdown passes and three interceptions in eight games since.

“They do a good job of just mixing everything up, keeping you on your toes,” Love said. “That was our first time seeing it, and we’ll have a better plan going into it.”

The Vikings have allowed 57 points in the last two games after giving up just 49 points over the four games before that. Their latest blow was a season-ending quadriceps tear for outside linebacker D.J. Wonnum, who matched his career high this year with eight sacks — including two on Love on Oct. 29. With Marcus Davenport sidelined for the last nine games and counting with an ankle injury, the Vikings are down two of their top three pass rushers.

“It’s going to be a big loss. We’ve got to try to find a way to overcome,” O’Connell said. “D.J.’s been one of those guys that his improvement and his impact has been critical.”

SLUMPING DEFENSE

The Packers have given up an average of nearly 30 points per game over their last three games. After Tommy DeVito (New York Giants) and Baker Mayfield (Tampa Bay) were each named NFC Offensive Player of the Week for their successive performances against them, the Packers allowed Carolina rookie Bryce Young to pass for a career-high 312 yards.

They must play the Vikings without top cornerback Jaire Alexander, who’ll serve a one-game suspension for what the Packers termed as conduct detrimental to the team. Alexander played a big role in limiting Justin Jefferson to a career-low one catch for 15 yards last season in a 41-17 win, frequently taunting the 2022 NFL Offensive Player of the Year that day in Green Bay the last time they matched up. Jefferson missed the first game this season with a hamstring injury.

KEEPING UP WITH JONES

Packers running back Aaron Jones has struggled through hamstring and knee injuries that caused him to miss six games this season, but he’s been coming on strong down the stretch. Jones had 21 carries for 127 yards against Carolina last week to set season highs in both categories.

Jones has gained 100-plus scrimmage yards against the Vikings four different times since 2019. The only player with more games of 100-plus scrimmage yards against the Vikings during that stretch is former Packers wide receiver Davante Adams, who’s now with Las Vegas.

HALL PASS

Hall, who was the first sub summoned for Cousins, has another audition after the Vikings benched Nick Mullens following six interceptions over the last two games. He was forced out of his first start on Nov. 5 at Atlanta because of a concussion. Hall will have Jefferson to throw to but not tight end T.J. Hockenson, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last week.

“We’ve got to go out there and play with a lot of physicality, hold guys up and get off the field on third downs. That’s one thing we can do — and capitalize and get turnovers,” Packers linebacker Quay Walker said. “It’s easy for me to say that, but we’ve actually got to do that.”

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL

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