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Vikes, Pack barely afloat

GREEN BAY, Wis. — A month ago, the Vikings seemed to be spiraling out of control and on the verge of losing their season.

Turned out, there was nothing better to get their attention back on the field than playing their hated rival Green Bay.

The Packers, trying to avoid slinking in the abyss of the NFC North, are looking to return the favor Monday night.

"We're both kind of fighting for our lives right now," said Green Bay kicker Ryan Longwell. "To have any shot at the playoffs, it's a game we both need."

The two have become accustomed to playing for the top of the division each time they meet. Now, they're just looking to stay afloat. Minnesota seems to have a better shot at turning its season around at 4-5, but the Packers insist they're not out of it at 2-7.

"There's going to be a lot more emotion in this game than there probably has been all season, not just from the rivalry that we have and the dislike that I think both teams have for each other, but also the way the last game played out," said Packers tackle Mark Tauscher. "We definitely feel like we owe them one."

That last game included a collapse by the Packers that dampened hopes they had turned a corner after a dismal start to the season.

Down 17-0 at halftime, the Vikings scored each time they touched the ball in the second half, the last on a three-play drive that ended with Paul Edinger's winning 56-yard field goal, the longest in team history.

"Every time you play against Green Bay, something crazy happens," said Minnesota quarterback Brad Johnson.

That ending was nothing new in this series. The last six regular-season games have been decided by six points or less; the last three were won on last-second field goals.

Not included in that count is Green Bay's 31-17 loss at home to Minnesota in the first round of last year's playoffs. The game will be forever known for Randy Moss' final gesture to Packers fans — a fake mooning in the end zone after a touchdown.

Monday marks the fifth time in a year the teams will play, and though they know each other well, there could be a few surprises.

Minnesota coach Mike Tice benched left guard Chris Liwienksi for Toniu Fonoti, who reported to the Vikings at just over 400 pounds last month while nursing a broken hand. Traded from San Diego for a conditional seventh-round pick, Fonoti has slimmed down some since, though Tice said it's not just size he was after with the change.

"I may as well unleash the beast and see if it brings another attitude to our front that we need," Tice said. "We don't have an attitude there. We need an attitude."

Johnson has stepped in at quarterback since Daunte Culpepper was knocked out for the season with a knee injury, and Minnesota has won both of his starts. Still, the Vikings have just 663 yards of offense in 11 quarters with Johnson at the helm and needed touchdown returns on an interception, punt and kickoff to beat the New York Giants last week.

"To lose your quarterback and then bounce back and win two in a row is a tribute to the character to the guys on the team," Tice said.

Any surprises the Packers offer up Monday night could start with who's healthy enough to play.

Already stung by injuries with two receivers and two running backs out for the season, Green Bay was hoping for a jolt with the return of wide receiver Robert Ferguson, who went down with a knee problem the last time the teams met. He was slated to return Monday night, but aggravated his injury in practice Friday, though coach Mike Sherman hasn't ruled him out.

Running back Tony Fisher missed two games with a broken rib, but appears ready to play Monday night.

Rookie Samkon Gado has filled in for Fisher, running for 103 yards last week and scoring three touchdowns in a win over Atlanta. The performance earned him NFC offensive player of the week honors and a flurry of media attention.

But he fumbled twice, both of which were recovered by the Packers, and has never played on a Monday night at Lambeau Field in the cold on national television. And he's playing each week to keep his job.

"I'm one fumble away from the general consensus being completely different than what it is now," Gado said.