NFC North News and Notes: Dec. 28

Who will start at quarterback for the Lions in the 2009 season finale? Why would the Packers give their best effort in Week 17 at Arizona? Have the Vikings altered their identity on offense lately?

Detroit Lions

Lions coach Jim Schwartz says he doesn't know who will start at quarterback in the season finale against Chicago.

QB Drew Stanton
Getty Images: Jed Jacobsohn

Matthew Stafford is on injured reserve and having clean-up knee surgery Tuesday in Birmingham, Ala. Daunte Culpepper was the backup all season, but the Lions gave Drew Stanton his first NFL start Sunday at San Francisco. Then Stanton threw three interceptions, lost a fumble and got benched in a 20-6 loss to the 49ers.

"Last week, we said the true measure of a quarterback is his ability to move the team and put points on the board, and we didn't get that done today," Schwartz said. "We didn't score touchdowns. We didn't move the team. We didn't get third-down conversions, and we turned the ball over too much. So it doesn't matter how Drew performed. The offense didn't perform well, and ultimately that's the quarterback's responsibility."

The Lions drove for a field goal on Stanton's first possession, but the offense fizzled after that and Stanton made some poor throws that were intercepted. He floated a pass intended for running back Maurice Morris in the second quarter, threw a ball behind wide receiver Calvin Johnson in the fourth quarter and underthrew a pass for wide receiver Dennis Northcutt in the fourth.

"I felt like I was going to the right places," Stanton said. "That's what's important. You're trying to get the timing down and the nuances of everything that go along. This game truly is a game of inches. I put it a little in front of Calvin, he scores. Get a little more air on it, and Northcutt catches it and runs. We've just got to find a way to do that as an offense, regardless of who's playing this position."

Stanton seemed unshaken.

"My confidence is fine," Stanton said. "It's one of those things where I've been in this situation before. It's how I'm going to respond now. Looking back, they're correctible mistakes. It's a matter of me making those throws. I was in the right spot. I just have to make the throw. That's something to build on. It's my first career start and a chance to do stuff like that. I did some good things, but at the end of the day, far, far inferior to what I wanted to do."

Green Bay Packers

Now that the Packers are bound for the postseason after a one-year hiatus, the biggest question facing them is how to handle the regular-season finale Sunday at the Arizona Cardinals.

S Atari Bibgy
Getty Images: Jonathan Daniel

They conceivably could be right back at University of Phoenix Stadium the following weekend to play the Cardinals again in the wild-card round of the NFC playoffs.

"That's kind of a weird situation to think about – same teams playing back-to-back in the same place," Packers safety Atari Bigby said. "But the goal is always to go out there and win, so we're going to play to win no matter what."

Following the Packers' playoff-clinching 48-10 thrashing of the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, coach Mike McCarthy didn't reveal what he plans to do for what could be an otherwise meaningless tune-up for the postseason.

His players don't want McCarthy to play things close to the vest, even if it means showing some things to the Cardinals as a prospective first-round opponent.

"We're full speed ahead," cornerback Charles Woodson said. "We're looking to make our splash in the playoffs. We have an opportunity. There's no reason to let up now."

Wide receiver Donald Driver echoed the sentiments, saying, "You can't sit guys down. It's really up to Mike anyway, but if guys want to play, I think he should let us play. We've got to keep our offense right."

Green Bay, which bounced back from a last-second loss at the Pittsburgh Steelers to win for the sixth time in the last seven games, had an encouraging offensive performance against the overmatched Seahawks.

Its running backs, who have played second fiddle in a pass-oriented attack most of the season, scored all six of the Packers' touchdowns Sunday. Five of those were on the ground, one short of the team record.

Situational back Brandon Jackson had three touchdowns – one more than his career total in two-plus seasons – and starter Ryan Grant posted his second two-touchdown game in the past three outings.

"When you're laying in bed on Saturday night, you're kind of hoping for five passing touchdowns, but it's nice to have some of the burden taken off you," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said.

Rodgers stands to gain the most among the Packers should McCarthy elect to play the starters deep into Sunday's game. He needs 260 passing yards to break Lynn Dickey's single-season franchise record of 4,458 in 1983.

"Our first goal was to win the [NFC] North this year, and we didn't do it," Rodgers said. "But we were able to make the playoffs, and anything can happen once you get in. We realize that. [We have] one more game, and it could be back-to-back in Arizona."

Minnesota Vikings

Brett Favre and coach Brad Childress might not be on the same page about how the Vikings offense should run all of the time, but the quarterback does seem to agree with one point that has been hammered home of late.

RB Adrian Peterson
Getty Images: Jim McIsaac

If the Vikings are to end their December malaise – they had lost two of three entering Monday night's game in Chicago – Adrian Peterson is going to need to get the ball more often.

The Pro Bowl running back went into Monday with a career-high stretch of five games without a 100-yard rushing effort. The offensive line had its troubles in prime-time losses at Arizona and Carolina this month, but the Vikings also seem to have lost some of their identity as a run-first team.

Certainly some of this has to do with Favre's ability to throw the football – Childress and Favre seem to have differing views on how much the quarterback should be checking from runs to passes. There is no question the veteran has had a positive impact on the franchise in his first season in Minnesota. The Vikings wrapped up the NFC North title in Week 15.

But Peterson led the NFL in rushing last season and is the player that this offense needs to revolve around if it's going to be consistently successful.

"I know our offense starts with Adrian Peterson, and that's where it ends," Favre said. "We have to get that back on track."

Peterson isn't about to demand the ball, and it's not as if he's having a poor season. Peterson was fourth in the NFL in rushing entering Week 16 with 1,235 yards and tied with Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew for the league lead with 15 rushing touchdowns.

"I don't know. I really can't say that," Peterson said when asked about how he was being used. "You can look at certain games where I might feel that maybe the run game should be emphasized more. You look at some games where you can say the same for the pass. That's pretty much how I look at it."

The fact Peterson had a season-low 12 carries for 35 yards in a 26-7 loss at Carolina was a definite concern and something the Vikings wanted to change at Chicago and in their regular-season finale against the New York Giants at the Metrodome.

"We've stood up here many times and said, 'That's what we are, we're a running team,'" offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "We all kind of joked about, 'Hey, there's nine, there's 10 guys up in the box and you're still running it. You're still getting positive yards.' We need to get back to that."

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