The Green Bay Packers found their 2011 offense on Sunday. Unfortunately, the 2011 defense came with it, and the Packers lost to the Minnesota Vikings in a shootout, 37-34.
10:50, 1st quarter — The Vikings have not only been playing well, but have especially been starting well. They go 40 yards on their first drive, which is just far enough to net a 54-yard field goal by Blair Walsh to go up 3-0.
The Packers start in their base defense, as expected. On 2nd-and-10, Ponder completes his first pass of the day on a drag route to Kyle Rudolph for 10 yards. The defense did well to not bite on the play action to the left, but Morgan Burnett took too long to pick up Rudolph coming across the field.
On the next play, Brad Jones and Dezman Moses failed to wrap up Adrian Peterson and he broke out of the pile, juked A.J. Hawk and M.D. Jennings, who both overran the play, and went for 12 yards. Following that, the Vikings would convert their first 3rd down when Jerome Simpson burned Tramon Williams on a simple out for 8 yards.
On 3rd-and-10 from the Packers’ 44, Ponder scrambles to his left for 8 yards. That is short of the 1st down, but because Jerron McMillian allowed Ponder to dive past him for 4 more yards, it was far enough for Walsh to come in and just barely make a 54-yard field goal.
9:25, 1st quarter — The Packers start at their 20 and go three and out. On 1st down, Ryan Grant hesitates, slips and is lucky to get 2. On 2nd down, Aaron Rodgers had all day to throw and eventually dumped it to Jermichael Finley for 4. On 3rd-and-4, Rodgers tried the comeback on the outside to James Jones. Jones slipped down and the Packers were lucky the ball slid through Chris Cook’s hands.
5:44, 1st quarter — The Packers tackle poorly on the punt return and Marcus Sherels gets the ball out to the 40. From there, the Vikings go 60 yards in seven plays to take a 10-0 lead.
After a Clay Matthews’ sack forced 3rd-and-12, the Packers blow it by allowing a screen to Toby Gerhart go for 21 yards. All three pass rushers for the Packers went after Ponder and completely ignored the fact that the offensive line was releasing. Casey Hayward did well to beat the block of Rudolph and is in position to stop the play, but he dives for Gerhart’s legs and misses. Everyone else gets blocked.
On the very next play, Hawk peels off the block of the fullback to set the edge, forcing Peterson to cut inside, where Brad Jones is unblocked. Peterson stiff arms Jones and heads up the sideline for 22 yards.
Peterson would score from 7 yards out a couple plays later. On that play, an inside dive, everyone was blocked one-on-one and no one got off their block.
14:55, 2nd quarter — After another Packers three and out where the ball was knocked down on 3rd down, the Vikings started with great field position and drove 34 yards for another field goal to make it 13-0.
The Vikings started near midfield thanks to a 39-yard Tim Masthay punt and an 11-yard return. A generous spot on a slant to Mike Jenkins on 3rd-and-10 encouraged the Vikings to go for it on 4th-and-1. Peterson picked it up with a 6-yard dive to the left through the gap that either Brad Jones or Mike Daniels was supposed to close.
The Vikings drive would end on a 3rd down shot to the end zone for Jarius Wright. Hayward is trailing and beat on the play, but the ball is slightly overthrown and dropped.
10:55, 2nd quarter — Jeremy Ross returned the next kickoff to the Packers’ 43. Two runs by DuJuan Harris moved the ball down to the Vikings’ 40. However, from there, on a play action out of the inverted wishbone, Rodgers held the ball, saw Jared Allen sliding past T.J. Lang on his right and strangely tried to scramble right. Allen caught him for a 12-yard sack.
After a 20-yard pass to Greg Jennings gave the Packers 3rd-and-7, Rodgers found James Jones on a 5-yard out. Jones is driven back by the defender, but keeps his feet only to get swarmed under 9 yards back from where he caught the ball. Amazingly, the ball is spotted there, becoming perhaps the first 5-yard pass to result in a 4-yard loss in NFL history.
The Packers wisely punt, but they burn a timeout before making this obvious call. Rodgers and Mike McCarthy are both seen complaining to the referees after this play and it is possible that they wanted to catch the Vikings in transition, but the refs took so long to back away from the ball that it never had a chance. The replay shows the refs still scrambling to get an extra football off the field with 8 seconds left on the play clock.
4:07, 2nd quarter — After the Packers defense finally forced a three and out, the offense goes 42 yards for a TD to get right back into the game at 13-7.
Another great Ross return gave the Packers the ball at the Vikings’ 42. From there, a 12-yard run by Harris immediately advanced the ball to the 30. Rodgers converts two 3rd downs in a row after that. A 3rd-and-8 is converted on an 11-yard slant to Jones. Then, a 3rd-and-7 is converted on a great effort by Jennings where he evaded two tacklers and bulled through a third for an 8-yard gain.
On 3rd-and-goal, Rodgers finds Finley over the middle for an apparent touchdown, but the referees rule him short of the end zone. There is a defensive holding penalty called on the play and the Packers choose to take the 1st-and-goal from the 3 rather than challenge the close call on Finley’s catch.
This would cost them another timeout after Jennings drops a touchdown in the flat. Even though it is only 2nd down and there are 8 seconds still on the play clock, Rodgers calls the timeout. That is the second timeout this drive and the Packers have none left.
After the next play is an incomplete pass, which Rodgers certainly could have done without burning the timeout, the Packers score on a 3-yard pass to Jennings where he broke free after Rodgers scrambled to his right.
1:10, 2nd quarter — The Packers give up perhaps their most painful score of the game when the Vikings go 60 yards for the TD right before half to push the score to 20-7.
Another good Sherels’ return got the ball out to the Vikings’ 40. Even though the game is in a dome, Mason Crosby is not getting great depth on his kicks and the Packers coverage unit is tackling as poorly as the Packers defense.
On 2nd-and-9 from the 41, Ponder doesn’t see a Burnett blitz coming until the last second and gets hit as he throws it up for grabs. Hawk and Hayward both have a shot at the ball, but Jenkins smashes into both of them when the ball arrives. The ball conveniently bounces far enough away to elude the mass of Packers and Jarius Wright makes a diving catch. Well, not really, because the ball hit the ground. About half the Packers defense immediately signals incomplete, but their opinion doesn’t count. The refs call it a catch and the Packers cannot challenge because they are idiotically out of timeouts.
A couple plays later, Burnett blitzes again and finds himself all alone in the backfield with Peterson. Amazingly, he just stands there. Peterson goes up the middle and then scoots to the right sideline for 18 yards. On the next play, Ponder finds Wright uncovered on a flat route out of the backfield for an easy TD. Even though this is a standard Vikings play, the Packers appear completely unprepared for it. Maybe they thought Wright was in the backfield to block.
Halftime — The Packers offense does well to drive for a field goal to make it 20-10 at half. The drive is all short passes underneath, good blocking, and running after the catch by Packers receivers. The drive had a chance to get more until Rodgers took a sack by Everson Griffen on a play where Jordy Nelson broke open downfield. Rodgers hung onto the ball and then failed to get away from Griffen, who worked his way into the backfield against Josh Sitton.
After Finley did well to get yardage and out of bounds, Crosby came in and made a 51-yard field goal that was kicked perfectly straight and made the net.
11:54, 3rd quarter — The Packers do it again with a drive for a TD to start the second half. A wide open 5-yard TD pass to Greg Jennings makes it 20-17.
This drive looks very much like the 2011 Packers offense with the Packers receivers making plays all over the field. On the second play of the drive, Jones catches a short pass at the sideline, gets a pancake block by Finley on Cook and bursts up field for 30 yards before being tracked down.
On 2nd-and-18 after Rodgers tripped over Don Barclay’s feet for a gift sack, Jennings caught another short pass, juked three Vikings defenders, got a block from Nelson and gained 45 yards before the Vikings finally tracked him down. The old Greg Jennings is back.
Jennings would finish the job just two plays later when the Vikings lost track of him out of the slot.
8:17, 3rd quarter — The Packers get a four and out on defense and then drive into Vikings territory. However, on 3rd-and-7 the momentum changes when Rodgers fumbles on a scramble up the middle. The Vikings recover at midfield.
The play didn’t ever have to happen in the first place. Immediately before that, Griffen jumped the snap on 3rd-and-2, but Josh Sitton reacted so quickly that it was called a false start on the offense. On 3rd-and-7, Brian Robison got around Barclay enough to pursue Rodgers when he attempted to scramble forward. Robison was fortunate to hit Rodgers just as he was bringing the ball back to throw it.
4:05, 3rd quarter — The Vikings capitalize on the fumble with a 50-yard TD drive that puts them ahead 27-17.
On the first play from midfield, Jerome Simpson pushes off Tramon Williams to gain separation and catches a pass over the middle for 21 yards. After a false start made it 2nd-and-16, Ponder just dumps it on the outside to Jerome Felton, who shoves his way past Williams for 17 yards.
A couple plays later, Peterson appeared to fumble the ball while being dragged down. The Packers recovered and returned it near the 40. The play was reviewed and reversed, though I am not exactly convinced that replay showed conclusive proof the ball wasn’t slipping from AP’s hand as he put it down. Regardless, a weak unsportsmanlike penalty backed the Vikings up, making it 2nd-and-27.
No matter, Peterson would go untouched over the right side for 28 yards on the very next play. Burnett dove into the backfield and was buried and out of the play. Tramon Williams was kicked out by the fullback, Felton. Hawk was pushed well out of the gap and Erik Walden was held up on the edge by Rudolph. Peterson split the gap between those two. M.D. Jennings was slow on his run fill and Peterson ran by him to the sideline.
The Packers would actually get a 3rd down stop after that, but a holding penalty on McMillian gave the Vikings another shot. They scored two plays later on a dump to Peterson, who was uncovered in the flat.
2:15, 3rd quarter — The Packers responded with an 87-yard TD drive to get back in the game again at 27-24.
On 3rd-and-4 from the Packers’ 17, Rodgers hit Nelson on a fly route from the slot. Nelson went 73 yards, down to the Vikings’ 8. On the next play, Rodgers threw a run-pass option to Jones, who made a tremendous effort in scoring on a dive to the end zone. The refs would somehow say that Jones fumbled on the play, proving that they weren’t even watching it.
This would send Rodgers screaming into McCarthy’s face, who would respond by throwing a challenge flag that was immediately picked up and given back to him by a heads up Jordy Nelson. Apparently under orders to keep what happened in Detroit from happening again on national television, the referees say they were already reviewing the play prior to the challenge flag coming out, allowing for the review.
Football is an emotional game, but just two plays are automatically reviewed: scoring plays and turnovers. This really isn’t that hard to remember.
Regardless, it is all much ado about nothing as the play is properly ruled a touchdown. The Packers are penalized 15 yards on the kickoff, but the Vikings only start from their own 21 and are forced to punt.
12:21, 4th quarter — A facemask on the punt return brings the ball to midfield for the Packers. They follow with a 28-yard drive for a FG to tie the game at 27.
The short drive included a conversion on 3rd-and-4 with a 5-yard pass to Jones, followed by an 11-yard quick pass to Jennings. The drive stalled on 3rd-and-4 when Rodgers threw a corner route that Jennings never got to.
7:54, 4th quarter — The Vikings strike back with a 79-yard drive for a touchdown to get the lead back at 34-27.
The drive mostly consisted of one play. On the first play of the drive, Ponder lofted it deep for Jarius Wright, who got past Sam Shields and caught it in stride for a 65-yard gain.
Of course, the Packers had eight in the box, with Burnett coming up and McMillian dropping deep at the snap. However, it is especially sad that Shields was alone on the play considering Wright was the ONLY receiver even on the field for the Vikings. The Packers essentially quadruple covered the tight end over the middle and left Shields alone with Wright.
The Packers actually got a stop on 3rd-and-goal, but same as the last Vikings TD, a penalty gave the Vikings another chance. This time it was a clear hands to the face by Tramon Williams, who has not had a game to write home about, but I’m still not sure how Simpson then got away with two head butts after that.
It would then still take 3rd-and-goal for the Vikings to score. Matthews sat out the play after being shaken up on the prior play. The Packers dropped Moses into coverage and rushed four. Ponder scrambled to his left, which was Moses’ side, and threw a pass off his back foot that should have been intercepted. However, the ball bounced off the right hand of M.D. Jennings and into the arms of Michael Jenkins for a miraculous TD.
2:54, 4th quarter — The offense doesn’t let up and goes 78 yards in 11 plays to tie the game again at 34-34.
After Don Barclay gave up a sack to Griffen and then false started, the Packers faced a bleak 3rd-and-21. Rodgers rolled to his right and found Finley for 20 yards. The Packers bravely went for it on 4th-and-1 and Rodgers found Jarrett Boykin for the 1st down on a back shoulder pass that Boykin did a great job of catching.
On 3rd-and-4 from the Vikings’ 44, Rodgers threw a bullet on the seam route to Greg Jennings for 14 yards. After a pass interference call moved the ball Vikings’ 2, Rodgers found Nelson on a beautiful back hip pass to tie the game.
Ball Game — The Vikings go 61 yards to kick a short FG as time expires and win the game 37-34.
The Packers appeared to be in great shape at the 2-minute warning with the Vikings facing 3rd-and-11. As they did during other 3rd and longs in the game, the Packers only rushed three and dropped eight into zone. The Vikings only send four guys out on routes, so the Packers essentially have everyone doubled with under and over coverage.
However, the left zone is being covered by Shields and Hayward and neither do their job. Shields cheats toward the slot man, Wright, on the deep slant while Hayward sits in the flat instead of trailing the outside receiver, Jenkins.
Ponder has plenty of time to pump fake and then let it go. He never looks for anyone else and doesn’t have to. A huge gap opens up between Shields and Hayward and Jenkins can stand near the sideline and catch the ball for 25 yards.
The Vikings pretty much finish the Packers off with a 26-yard run by Peterson over the left side. On that play, Rudolph adequately blocks Clay Matthews and a gap opens when Mike Daniels and Brad Jones both take the inside gap. Peterson runs between Matthews and those two and breaks into the secondary.
The Vikings let the clock run down and then kick the easy 29-yard field goal.
I was shocked by how poorly the Packers defense played in this game. This is a unit that had been steadily improving since the Giants game, finishing the year as the 11th-ranked defense in the league, which is quite an improvement from last season. The Vikings executed well and got some big breaks, but the Packers defense tackled poorly, covered poorly and just failed to make any kind of play that could have turned momentum.
The Packers offense played so well that if the defense had just made one play, the result of the game would likely have been different.
After having the best first half of a season in his career, what happened to Erik Walden? He has lost playing time to Dezman Moses, sure, but even when he is in there, you wouldn’t know it. The Vikings ran to their right at will, which was right at Walden/Moses, Tramon Williams, A.J. Hawk and M.D. Jennings all game. Even with B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett playing an excellent game, the Packers were still shredded on the ground.
The Packers offensive line did a great job with Jared Allen and Brian Robison, for the most part, but Everson Griffen continues to be a guy they struggle with. DuJuan Harris is clearly the best runner the Packers have, though I was surprised that Alex Green was active and didn’t play. The Packers had said he was playing all week.
Aaron Rodgers continues to play well, which is a great sign for the Packers. However, the defense is going to have to show that this game was an aberration if the Packers are going to advance far in the playoffs.
The game this Saturday at Lambeau will be played in weather of 15-20 degrees. That could help make this next game radically different than one we just saw. Ponder has been miserable so far at Lambeau Field. The Packers will want to make sure he stays that way if they are to advance.
You never like facing a division opponent in the playoffs. The Vikings play at Lambeau every year and know what to expect. If the Packers get past the Vikings, they would then face another physical team in San Francisco the following week.
In other words, it is time for the defense to step up or the Packers season will end within the next two weeks.