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Packers face challenge in stopping Peterson

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Packers face challenge in stopping Peterson

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) Green Bay Packers cornerback Tramon Williams respects and admires Adrian Peterson.

However, he doesn't want to see the Minnesota Vikings running back break the NFL's single-season rushing record against his team on Sunday.

``If anybody deserves to get the record, it's definitely (Peterson), no doubt about it. But unfortunately, they're playing us,'' Williams said. ``We want to put our best foot forward. It's going to be a tough task; we know that already. But if history is on our side, A.P. had his good game against us already. Hopefully, we can come back and get our good game against him.

``If it happens, we've shown already that he can run for 200 and still win. But we want to play our best ball, we want to control all we can control, and the way the guys are playing, we think that we can put a better performance than we did the first game.''

Peterson rushed for 210 yards on 21 carries in the Packers' first game against the Vikings, on Dec. 2 at Lambeau Field. Green Bay won the game 23-14.

Now, Peterson enters the regular-season finale with 1,898 yards, needing 208 yards to break Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards, set in 1984.

The Vikings (9-6) have a simple playoff scenario against the Packers: Win, and they're in.

If the Vikings lose, they'll need a loss by the Chicago Bears to the Detroit Lions, a loss by the New York Giants to the Philadelphia Eagles and a loss by the Dallas Cowboys to the Washington Redskins to get into the playoffs at 9-7.

Meanwhile, the Packers (11-4) can clinch the No. 2 seed in the NFC and earn a first-round playoff bye with a victory over the Vikings.

Vikings coach Leslie Frazier made it clear Wednesday that getting Peterson the record is not as important as winning the game - and thereby clinching the sixth and final NFC playoff berth.

``We're going to have to call a regular game and if the record comes in the midst of us getting a win, that would be great,'' Frazier said. ``Adrian will be the first to tell you that the most important thing for our team is to win. If we don't get the record and we win, he's going to be a happy dude, no matter what. He wants to win the game, and that's how we're approaching it. We've got to find a way to win the game.''

Peterson rushed for just 86 yards against the Houston Texans last Sunday in the Vikings' 23-6 victory, as the Texans put eight defenders in the box on most plays in an effort to keep Peterson in check.

Peterson's final carry came with 6:46 left in the game, and a strained abdominal muscle kept him from practicing Wednesday.

``I don't think anyone really shuts him down. He's amazing,'' Packers inside linebacker A.J. Hawk said. ``But it's going to be awesome. What a great challenge coming down to the last game. They have to win to get in (to the playoffs); we're looking to get better position in the playoffs. That's a lot riding on the 16th game of the season, so that's exciting. That'll be fun to be a part of that one.''

Meanwhile, Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings created a bit of a stir last week when he said that he wanted to see Peterson get the record.

Asked if he wanted to revise his remarks about Peterson and the record, Jennings said no.

``It's one of those situations where he's playing against us in the last game of the season, so if he were to get it, it would have to be against us,'' Jennings said.

``That's the thing. You have to learn to appreciate what you have out there. I mean, who knows if that will ever happen? Just like with (Lions wide receiver) Calvin (Johnson) breaking Jerry

Rice's record. I (wanted) him to do it. That's just the way it is. Records are meant to be broken, whether it's against you or someone else.''

But Jennings apparently is alone in his position.

``I hope he doesn't break it against us,'' wide receiver James Jones said. ``Great season he's had. To be even close to the 2,000-yard mark is unbelievable. But hopefully he doesn't break it against us because we've got to stop him and win the ballgame.''

Added outside linebacker Dezman Moses: ``We've got a lot of pride. We're men, too. We don't want anybody to (set) a record. We understand what's at stake, and we definitely want to be the team to stop him. That's a big task, but something we're up for.''

NOTES: Three Packers were chosen for the NFC Pro Bowl roster: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who could start for the NFC; outside linebacker Clay Matthews; and veteran center Jeff Saturday. Saturday was benched last week in favor of backup Evan Dietrich-Smith. ... Kick returner Randall Cobb and right guard Josh Sitton were selected first alternates. ... Wide receiver Jordy Nelson (hamstring) returned to practice and expects to play Sunday. ... Kicker Mason Crosby was sent home with the flu. . Sitton did not practice because of a concussion, but coach Mike McCarthy was hopeful he'd be cleared on Thursday.

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Vitek Vanecek will play in NHL's round robin, but Capitals' Stanley Cup hopes rest with Braden Holtby

Vitek Vanecek will play in NHL's round robin, but Capitals' Stanley Cup hopes rest with Braden Holtby

Brought up to replace the injured Ilya Samsonov, Vitek Vanecek's first taste of NHL hockey will come inside the bubble in Toronto. Not exactly the best of circumstances. 

But Vanecek plays an important role on a Capitals team with Stanley Cup aspirations. Should Braden Holtby struggle or get hurt during the playoffs, Washington will need its young back-up goalie to keep their team afloat and let his talented skaters take it from there.

That's why NBC Sports Washington analyst Alan May, during an appearance with The Sports Junkies Tuesday, looks forward to seeing Vanecek play a little bit in the round-robin portion of the NHL restart. Ideally, though, it stops there.

"[Vanecek] probably will get one of these games, [the Capitals] said that from the start," May said. "But I hope he doesn't play once they get to the playoff rounds. I think it would be wise to play him in [round robin] games, it's not the end of the world what the seeding is in this. He's a good size goaltender, I think he's about 6'2, and with the training that he's had, he's worked on the fundamentals of his game, he's gotten his conditioning up. He looks very similar to Holtby in net, He's gotten a lot of good reps in American Hockey [League] just like Holtby did around the same age."

And what's the reason why no Caps fan should want to see Vanecek in the postseason? It's simple really. Because this team's best chance at another title revolves around Holtby being a steady and stifling presence between the pipes throughout the playoffs. 

RELATED: PHYSICALITY THE KEY FOR CAPITALS IN PLAYOFFS

"I think the big thing with this is you really don't want to see [Vanecek] in the net after the round robin," he said. "If they're going to win this thing, it's gonna have to be Braden Holtby getting 16 wins. To me, the most important thing is that Holtby plays in the playoffs, the guy's dynamite, no leaky goals out of him."

This could be Holtby's last playoff run with the Capitals as he enters a contract year. The Caps already committed long term money to Nicklas Backstrom this season, they have an Alex Ovechkin extension to worry about and the flat salary cap certainly won't do them any favors either. Not to mention the presence of Samsonov after a stellar rookie season. 

So if this is it, if this is Holtby's last dance in Washington, he at least looks ready to play his best hockey when it matters most.  

"He looks focused and dialed in, and he wants to make sure if he's going out and won't be a Capital anymore he wants to go home with a victory in his last game."

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With the way Alex Smith has looked so far, Ron Rivera 'can envision' him being in the quarterback mix

With the way Alex Smith has looked so far, Ron Rivera 'can envision' him being in the quarterback mix

Positive reports about Alex Smith's early training camp performance came out over the weekend, and on a Tuesday morning Zoom call with the media, Ron Rivera echoed those reviews.

"He's looked good, he really has," the head coach said. "I'll be honest, I was pleasantly surprised to see how far along he is. It's been exciting to watch his progression."

According to Rivera, Smith has been working off to the side with Washington Football Team trainers at the Ashburn facility and is mirroring what Dwayne Haskins and Kyle Allen are doing, too. Coordinator Scott Turner and QBs coach Ken Zampese are apparently involving Smith as much as they can, and Smith is looking "very fluid" so far.

"It's a tribute to who he is, it's a tribute to his trainers and his doctors who have helped him get where he is today," Rivera said.

That all, of course, is wildly encouraging. The fact that the 36-year-old is in a place where he can check off those boxes and do those activities is astounding. That can't be pointed out enough, either.

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Yet it's also fair to note just how different mimicking a starting signal caller and actually serving as the starting signal caller are. So, is there any real chance of Smith transitioning from that first phase to the second before the season? 

With what he's seen from the veteran so far, Rivera certainly believes there is.

"I can envision it," he said. "The big thing is if he can do the things that we need him to do, that he needs to do to help himself on the football field, he'll be part of the conversation most definitely. He did some really good things last week. He went through all four workout days, had no residual effect the next morning, which is always important because the next day usually tells.

"We'll see how he is this week and we'll go from there."

As Smith continues to rehab and try to make his way off PUP, the challenges are solely physical. Rivera is not worried at all about the veteran having to adjust to a new scheme or dealing with any other mental task; instead, the primary concern is ensuring that Smith can handle the contact that'll come if he makes it back into live action.

"I believe he already knows probably 75-percent of our playbook," Rivera said. "So for him, it's really just a matter of can he do the movements he needs to do? Can he protect himself when he's on the field?"

It feels like every time Smith is brought up, he's taken another step. The next one, however — going from the PUP list to the huddle — is particularly daunting.

But at this point, it's gotten pretty difficult to imagine anything being particularly daunting for Alex Smith. So don't be that floored if he makes it happen. Rivera clearly won't be. 

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