Minnesota Vikings rookie running back Adrian Peterson is on track to return to the field this week, just in time for a pivotal NFC North game against Detroit.

Peterson tore the lateral collateral ligament in his right knee three weeks ago against Green Bay. He missed the last two victories over Oakland and Detroit, but the star rookie had an MRI exam Monday that “shows excellent healing,” coach Brad Childress said.

As long as everything goes as planned this week in practice, Childress said he would ease Peterson back against the Lions, splitting carries with veteran Chester Taylor.

Despite missing the past two games, Peterson still leads the NFL with 1,081 yards rushing and is second to Philadelphia’s Brian Westbrook with 1,301 yards from scrimmage. The Vikings (5-6) have won three of their last four games to creep back into the playoff picture in the muddled NFC. Detroit (6-5) has lost three in a row after starting the season 6-2.

Panthers sticking with Testaverde

All those Carolina fans chanting “We want Moore” during the Panthers’ dismal loss Sunday to New Orleans will have to wait.

Embattled coach John Fox said Monday that 44-year-old Vinny Testaverde, if healthy, would start next week against San Francisco ahead of struggling David Carr and fan favorite rookie Matt Moore.Testaverde was supposed to start against the Saints, too, but was a late scratch due to a sore back.

“I’m almost a little reluctant to name (a starter),” Fox said, referring to Carolina’s constantly changing QB scenario. “But I think it would be fair to say if Vinny’s healthy, he’ll be the guy.”

It was fitting that dense fog hovered around Bank of America Stadium on Monday, a day after the Panthers’ lowest point of a season that has quickly spiraled out of control, leading to questions about Fox’s job security.

Sunday’s 31-6 loss to the Saints was Carolina’s fifth straight overall and seventh straight at home dating to last season. It featured brutal quarterback play from Carr, constant boos from fans and effectively eliminated the Panthers (4-7) from playoff contention.

Carr was so bad – 10-of-22 for 95 yards, two interceptions and a passer rating of 20.1 – fans started chanting for Moore late in the first half. Fox eventually yanked Carr after his second interception early in the fourth quarter when the game was decided. Moore, signed by Carolina after his release by Dallas before the start of the regular season, completed 8 of 14 passes for 66 yards and an interception.

Garcia sore, but Bucs hopeful he’ll face Saints

TAMPA, Fla. – Jeff Garcia’s injured back was sore Monday, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers remained hopeful their 37-year-old quarterback will be able to play this week against the New Orleans Saints.

Garcia was hurt on the first play of Sunday’s 19-13 victory over Washington. He left the game two plays later and remained on the sideline until the Redskins trimmed a 16-point halftime deficit to six early in the fourth quarter.

Coach Jon Gruden described the injury as a lower back bruise. He said Garcia’s status is day to day.

“He’s a sore man right now,” Gruden said, declining to speculate whether Garcia will play Sunday or Bruce Gradkowski or Luke McCown would start if Garcia can’t go.

“He might be ready to go Wednesday (for practice). He might not be. He might be ready to go against the Saints. He might not be. We’ll deal with that on a day-to-day basis.”

Garcia, one of the big reasons the Bucs (7-4) lead the NFC South by two games, has not started every game in a season since 2002 with San Francisco. He’s in his first year with the Bucs after spending the past three with Cleveland, Detroit and Philadelphia.

Gradkowski started 11 games as a rookie after Chris Simms suffered a season-ending spleen injury last year. He replaced Garcia against Washington, but was unable to consistently move the offense.

The Redskins lost four fumbles inside their 35 in the first half, yet the Bucs were only able to convert them into a touchdown and three field goals.

It was even uglier in the second half, when Tampa Bay was outgained 316 yards to 15 and failed to make a first down. Garcia paced the sideline while a 19-3 lead gradually was closed to six points, then persuaded Gruden to send him back onto the field with just over 11 minutes remaining.

Garcia, hurt when he scrambled for a 1-yard gain and was tackled by Washington’s Cornelius Griffin, was not available for comment Monday. After the game, he said he was optimistic he would play against the Saints.

“I feel like I can heal fast,” he said. “I’m going to listen to my body and allow it to tell me how I should take it.”

Garcia has completed 64.5 percent of his passes for 2,135 yards, 11 touchdowns and three interceptions in 11 games. He has the third-highest passer rating (96.0) in the NFC behind Tony Romo and Brett Favre and didn’t throw an interception until the eighth week of the season.

The quarterback may not necessarily have to practice Wednesday and Thursday to get the start against the Saints (5-6).

“He can play, no question, with reduced practice snaps,” Gruden said. “We practice, though, to get guys ready to play. Again, I don’t want to speculate.”

AP-ES-11-26-07 1713EST


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