The Vikings witnessed last week, for the second consecutive season, the ability of Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who has emerged as a standout after one season at Wisconsin.
Strangely, the Vikings will face a former Badgers quarterback in consecutive weeks. Third-year pro Scott Tolzien, Wilson's predecessor at Wisconsin, will make his second career start Sunday at Lambeau Field.
"It is kind of neat when you think about it," said Viking Marcus Sherels, who faced Tolzien in 2009 as a Gophers cornerback.
Tolzien ended his collegiate career leading Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl following the 2010 season (the Badgers lost to Texas Christian 21-19 when a Tolzien conversion pass was knocked down in the final minute). Now, he is Aaron Rodgers' temporary replacement as Rodgers recovers from a broken collarbone suffered on Nov. 4 against the Bears.
So what did Tolzien do in between those two significant points of his playing career? He went undrafted in 2011, signed with and was cut by the Chargers, then was a third-stringer for San Francisco the past two seasons. The Rolling Meadows, Ill., native returned to Wisconsin, where he signed and was added to the Packers practice squad at the start of this season.
Following Rodgers' injury, Tolzien was signed off the practice squad and thrown in at quarterback, seeing his first NFL action when Seneca Wallace suffered a groin injury on the opening drive against the Eagles. On Sunday, Tolzien will become the first quarterback — other than Rodgers or Brett Favre — to start consecutive games for the Packers since Don Majkowski started three consecutive games in 1992.
"I think I try to avoid [thinking] that for now," Tolzien told reporters in Green Bay this week. "That's something for down the road, looking back. I'm just trying to have tunnel vision right now with a laser focus on what we're trying to do. You don't want to make something different than what it is."
While Wilson had success as Tolzien's successor, leading the Badgers to a second consecutive Rose Bowl, the Packers haven't been as fortunate in their attempt to replace Rodgers. They've lost three consecutive games, including the Bears game in which Rodgers suffered the injury.
Tolzien has passed for 619 yards in two games with a .658 completion percentage, but he's thrown five interceptions. Three of those occurred last week against the Giants in his first career start.
"I was worried about his plate being too full in New York, so we kind of straddled that line," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "He's off to a good start this week. Any time you're playing with a young quarterback, there's that line you're trying to balance of making sure he's comfortable and not overloaded but also giving the offensive unit an opportunity to be explosive."
The run game has suffered without Rodgers. The Packers had a season-low 55 rushing yards against the Giants, who stacked eight or nine players in the box, but Tolzien took advantage of man coverage with an accurate deep ball. Five of his 24 completed passes against the Giants went for 20 yards or more.
"He's quite capable of making those plays, which show up on tape," Vikings defensive coordinator Alan Williams said. "So if he's making them I fully expect them to continue doing them, and their receivers are making big plays for him."
Tolzien clearly isn't Rodgers, or Wilson for that matter, but it's the best option the Packers have at the moment. A chance to seize a starting position is rare for any practice squad player, let alone a chance at quarterback for the Packers.
"We're so lucky to have Aaron as our quarterback," Tolzien said. "All of us want him playing. But at the same time, you don't make excuses. It's what we have in the locker room and you make the most of it, plain and simple, and you go from there."