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Ex-Packer Longwell to face former teammates for first time

EDEN PRAIRIE -- When Ryan Longwell left Green Bay for Minnesota, a few of his old fans wrote him to share their frustration with the team's all-time leading scorer signing with a rival club.

EDEN PRAIRIE -- When Ryan Longwell left Green Bay for Minnesota, a few of his old fans wrote him to share their frustration with the team's all-time leading scorer signing with a rival club.

"They just weren't too happy about it," Longwell said, smiling.

Little did they know he was about to become the Vikings' biggest offensive weapon.

Though he has never been picked for the Pro Bowl and the Packers weren't going to bring him back, Longwell has been one of the few reliable parts of Minnesota's impotent offense. That makes his new employer plenty happy to have him under contract for five years and as much as $10 million.

He will face his former team for the first time when they visit the Metrodome on Sunday.

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"It will be a special game, but we're both kind of in the same situation. We both need a win, so it's bigger than playing your ex-teammates," said Longwell, who spent eight seasons in Green Bay.

There are myriad Wisconsin-to-Minnesota connections with Longwell and another ex-Packer, safety Darren Sharper, wearing purple jerseys.

Former Badgers Darrell Bevell, Brooks Bollinger and Ross Kolodziej are also getting paid by the Vikings as an offensive coordinator, backup quarterback and reserve defensive tackle. Plus, coach Brad Childress used to run the offense at the University of Wisconsin.

But as Longwell pointed out, the luster of these past associations has been considerably lessened by the current situations these clubs are in.

Minnesota (4-4) would actually qualify as a wild-card team if the playoffs began this week despite consecutive defeats, including a 9-3 dud at San Francisco last Sunday. Green Bay (3-5) outgained Buffalo 427 to 184 in total yards but turned over the ball four times and lost 24-10.

This series, which was at its bitter best in the late 1990s and the beginning of this decade, is about as close as a rivalry can come. The Vikings lead 45-44 with one tie after winning twice last year on game-ending kicks by Paul Edinger, who was let go over off the offseason in favor of Longwell.

That history of tight finishes, plus the chance to take a key player from a division foe, motivated Minnesota to pursue Longwell -- who has made 14 of 17 field goals this year -- during free agency.

"I'm just hoping he doesn't make one to win the game on us," said Green Bay's Donald Driver. "Hopefully we can take care of our business early on, and he's just sitting on the sideline drinking some Gatorade."

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Dave Rayner, Longwell's replacement, is 12-for-15 on field goals.

"It's always hard to step into a position where a guy's been so good for so many years," Rayner said. "I'm not trying to replace Ryan Longwell. I'm just trying to start my career."

Longwell has become even more important because of the Vikings' inability to get the ball in the end zone. They're last in the league in red-zone efficiency, scoring only four touchdowns in their 18 possessions inside the 20-yard line.

"Obviously, I'd love to kick a lot of extra points, but whatever they need we're going to put them through until we can get rolling a little bit and start putting up some points," Longwell said.

After mustering only a field goal on the game's opening drive against the woeful 49ers, Minnesota has another chance for invigoration against a Green Bay defense that ranks last in the NFL in yards passing allowed -- more than 244 per game. Brad Johnson has not thrown for a touchdown in the last 10 quarters.

"In general, we've been unbelievable at first drives this season," he said. "Maybe we need to just run the first drive over and over all season long. We might be OK. Just repeat the plays."

Without much to scare opponents on offense, the Vikings have hung their horns on defensive tackles Pat Williams and Kevin Williams, the roots of a unit that leads the league in yards rushing allowed, just 69 per game.

The Packers' Ahman Green has gained at least 106 yards on the ground in each of the last three weeks after returning from a hamstring injury, but it will be a challenge to continue that streak.

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"You can't single block them," Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said, wowed by what he has watched Williams and Williams do this year. "They do a great job of anchoring and splitting double teams. They're clearly the best tandem of defensive tackles we have played to this point."

The Packers must put pressure on Johnson, and defensive end Aaron Kampman, the NFL's sacks leader with 9Β½, is the person to do that. Kampman will be lined up across from Minnesota's struggling right tackle, Marcus Johnson.

"He's an expert at his craft, and I just think you're seeing a younger player starting to come into his own," McCarthy said.

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