Packers start two-game North stretch

The Packers felt like they missed an opportunity to unseat an undefeated team Sunday, but their attention has to quickly turn to the NFC North with games against the Vikings and Bears in consecutive weeks.

Having reached the midpoint of their regular season, the Packers will begin the second half of the schedule faced with two consecutive games that could go a long way toward determining their fate in the NFC North.

Three of the four teams in the division are bunched together and battling for division supremacy.

Green Bay, which ran away with the NFC North title last season by turning a 10-1 start into a 13-3 record, fell out of first place when it lost 19-16 in overtime at the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. The Packers (4-4) were kicking themselves for not prevailing in a winnable game against the NFL's lone unbeaten team.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers said there's no such thing as "moral victories."

Right tackle Mark Tauscher echoed the sentiment.

"It came down to a handful of plays that we didn't make," Tauscher lamented. "You give Tennessee credit. They are a very good football team, but if we make those plays, we win the game. We came (there) to win, and we didn't get it done. Almosts are no good. You have to win."

With eight games to play, victories from here on out will be precious, starting Sunday at the Metrodome in Minneapolis. The Packers are tied with the Minnesota Vikings for second place in the NFC North.

Both teams are a game behind the front-running Chicago Bears, who are 5-3.

A Green Bay win Sunday against the Vikings would set the stage for a first-place showdown between the Packers and the Bears on Nov. 16 at Lambeau Field. Chicago hosts Tennessee on Sunday.

"We're aware of the standings and where we are in the standings," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "(But) those are secondary focuses is the way that I speak to the team. I can't speak for the players. I'm sure they're well aware of what everybody's record is, everything is so publicized. But, we're more in tune with what our record is, 4-4, and the things we need to improve on to keep moving forward."

As he prepares his team for its second straight road game, McCarthy alluded to the enormity of Sunday's game at the traditionally raucous Metrodome. The Vikings are seeking to avenge a 24-19 loss at Green Bay in the teams' Sept. 8 season opener.

"Division road games are probably the toughest road games that you play throughout the year, in my opinion," McCarthy said. "So, this week's challenge will be big for us, no doubt."

The Packers are 5-0 against the Vikings since McCarthy was hired as coach in 2006.

NOTES

  • QB Aaron Rodgers likely will be on a pitch count with the number of throws he makes in practice Wednesday and probably Thursday, too, as he continues to play with a sprained throwing shoulder. Rodgers has made four straight starts with the injury and will be good to go when the Packers play at the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.

  • RB Ryan Grant suffered a bruised hand in Green Bay's 19-16 overtime loss at the Tennessee Titans on Sunday but was able to finish the game. The injury isn't considered serious. Grant had 20 carries for 86 yards, his fourth straight game with at least 80 rushing yards.

  • LT Chad Clifton should be ready to practice Wednesday and play in the Packers' next game. Clifton was a late scratch from the starting lineup for the game at Tennessee because of an allergic reaction to anti-inflammatory medicine he was given in the morning.

  • WR Donald Driver needs a catch in Sunday's game to break Sterling Sharpe's franchise record of 103 straight games with a reception. Driver had a game-high seven catches for 136 yards and a touchdown in Green Bay's last contest, his first 100-yard receiving game in the regular season in 12 games, dating back to last November.

  • WR Greg Jennings continues to rank second in the league for receiving yards (764) after he had three receptions for 79 yards, including a 52-yarder, on Sunday. Jennings, who has a team-high 40 catches, is closing in on his career-high totals of 53 receptions and 920 receiving yards last season.

  • TE Donald Lee had just three catches for 22 yards Sunday. Lee has had more than three receptions only twice this season and hasn't been much of a scoring factor with just two touchdown receptions.

  • WR James Jones was a healthy inactive for the game Sunday. Jones had practiced all of last week after missing the previous two games because of an aggravated torn PCL in his right knee. Special teams needs factored into the decision to keep Jones, the team's No. 3 wideout, sidelined.

  • DE Michael Montgomery had a productive return to game action Sunday. The versatile backup, who had been sidelined the previous two games because of a sprained ankle, led all players with a career-high 10 tackles, including a sack, and also had a pass breakup.

  • CB Al Harris appears to be in football shape after returning to game action Sunday. The Pro Bowl player made the start at right cornerback after being out the previous four games because of a lacerated spleen.

  • LB Desmond Bishop was the only injury-related inactive player for the Packers on Sunday. Bishop, a backup and special teams catalyst, suffered a strained hamstring in practice Oct. 27 and will be iffy to get back on the field this week.


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