The Green Bay Packers maintained control of their own destiny and won their franchise record 10th-straight division game by beating the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field.
11:30, 1st quarter — You know the Packers offense isn’t what it was when a division rival chooses to start the game with that unit on the field. The decision backfires when the Packers take the opening kick and go 75 yards in eight plays to go up 7-0.
The Packers go with the hurry-up offense on this drive and they also feature the three-step drop with two short passes to Randall Cobb and one to Jermichael Finley. On the only play of the drive where birthday boy Aaron Rodgers took a full drop, he scrambled for 8 yards. That scramble would add to the 16 yards on three carries gained by Alex Green during the drive.
The Packers would only face one 3rd down and the Vikings jumped offsides to give the Packers a conversion. The Vikings would also jump offsides on 2nd down from their own 32 and Rodgers would make them pay with a 32-yard TD pass to James Jones.
James Jones had a step on A.J. Jefferson on the out and up, but Rodgers threw the ball short and to the inside, giving Jefferson a great opportunity to break it up. Jefferson apparently was unaware that an interception would simply be called back on the penalty and goes for it instead of just swatting the ball away. Jones goes over his back and takes the ball right out of his hands.
This is the exact start that Packers fans were hoping for and the Packers continue to be thankful that James Jones has two healthy hamstrings.
10:00, 1st quarter — The Packers get back to their good starts on defense by forcing a Viking three and out.
Adrian Peterson got 5 yards on the first two carries of the game. The Packers open in their base, as expected, and B.J. Raji helps limit Peterson on both plays. On 3rd-and-5, the Packers blitz seven and play zone behind it. It works this time, partially helped by the fact that no Vikings receiver goes downfield. Morgan Burnett sits on the underneath flat and nearly has a pick on Christian Ponder’s first pass.
4:05, 1st quarter — The Packers offense keeps rolling, going 52 yards in 12 plays and taking up nearly six minutes before kicking a short field goal to push the lead to 10-0.
The Packers are still in the hurry-up for most this drive. After a quick pass to Cobb gets 7, a run by James Starks and then a screen to Starks moves the ball to the Minnesota 42. On 3rd-and-1 from there, the Packers do a keep pass to the right, in the face of a blitz and Tom Crabtree is easily open and gains 15. Rodgers then converts a 3rd-and-7 with a 10-yard out to Jordy Nelson down to the Minnesota 14. Nelson would limp off the field following the play.
Two plays later Rodgers finds Jones on a comeback route and he makes a great effort to get the ball into the end zone for what should be his second TD of the game. Unfortunately, T.J. Lang got beat by Brian Robison on the play and is called for holding — though it doesn’t appear there was any actual holding — which nullifies the score.
On the following 3rd-and-8, the Packers send five out, but only Jones and Cobb run past the first down and are covered up by the safeties. Jennings might be open on the out, but Rodgers misses him when Everson Griffen runs through Marshall Newhouse to hit the quarterback just as he releases.
Mason Crosby comes in for the 30-yard field goal and manages to make even that eventful by putting it off the left upright and through.
12:20, 2nd quarter — Unfortunately, the Vikings show they’ve actually come to play, as they complete their best drive of the game with a TD to make it 10-7.
The Vikings go 71 yards in 14 plays, featuring seven runs by Peterson for 33 yards and four passes to Kyle Rudolph, including a 7-yard TD.
The Vikings picked up two 3rd-and-shorts with runs by Peterson and the touchdown came on another play-action fake, with Rudolph running a drag route at the goal line. Rudolph is actually bracketed on the play, but Ponder throws it in anyway and just gets it past Brad Jones before he turns his head.
9:08, 2nd quarter — The Packers go three and out thanks to the dreaded 3rd-and-1, when they hand it off to John Kuhn from the shotgun and get half a yard. The Packers have six guys to block six defenders on the play and should be able to pick up a yard, but Finley gets pushed down the line by Jared Allen and Fred Evans bulls through Jeff Saturday to stuff Kuhn.
The Packers need to give James Starks the ball here.
The Vikings respond with a three and out of their own. The Packers do well enough on 1st and 2nd down on Peterson to force a 3rd-and-4. Ponder tries for Devin Aromashodu on the comeback against Davon House. House is all over it and the pass falls incomplete.
6:40, 2nd quarter — The Packers drive to midfield on the following possession, getting a 1st down by penalty. On 3rd-and-1, Rodgers would get chased out of the pocket when Allen runs right around Newhouse. With the option to run for the 1st, Rodgers throws downfield to Finley, but the throw is in the ground and Finley can’t corral it. T.J. Lang was leg-whipped on this play and would next be seen taking up residence on the Packers’ bench.
The Packers’ punt pins the Vikings at their 9.
5:20, 2nd quarter — The Vikings top what has been a great 2nd quarter for them when Peterson breaks an 82-yard TD run on the third play of the following drive.
On 3rd-and-1, the Vikings lined up with two tight ends to the right side. Erik Walden tries to split them instead of holding the edge and takes himself out of the play. A.J. Hawk takes on the fullback at the line of scrimmage and does well to spin off the block to the outside, but Peterson is already by him. Burnett is the unblocked man and has a shot at the tackle to hold the play to 4 yards, but he dives at Peterson’s legs and doesn’t even slow him down. This leaves M.D. Jennings to make the tackle, but he goes high and gets thrown off, only managing to trip up Tramon Williams who was trying to grab Peterson from the outside.
Peterson shakes free and no one is left with any speed to chase him. Casey Hayward has to come all the way across the field and he can’t get there.
There would be no more scoring in the first half. The following Packers drive would be stopped by inches when Kuhn goes to the ground to catch a 3rd down Rodgers’ pass. Antoine Winfield would manage to touch Kuhn down maybe a half second before he can stretch the ball past the first down.
The Vikings would follow with another three and out with, oddly, Peterson taking a rest on the sideline. On 3rd-and-5, Mike Neal hit Ponder’s arm as he was throwing and the ball fell short of Jerome Simpson over the middle.
The Packers would then maneuver into field goal range on passes to Cobb and Finley, only to have Crosby badly miss a 53-yarder as the half expired.
14:00, 3rd quarter — The Vikings go three and out while picking up 52 yards.
Following up on his shank to end the first half, Crosby starts the second half with a kick out of bounds. On the Vikings first play, Peterson runs off left tackle, cuts off the block of his fullback, Jerome Felton, who buries A.J. Hawk, and a bunch of Packers dive at Peterson instead of tackling him. Peterson pulls a spin move on Jerron McMillian and breaks into the open again. He gets to the Green Bay 12 before Tramon Williams forces him out of bounds.
No matter, for two plays later, Ponder is flushed to the right sideline by Neal and tries to throw it back towards the middle of the end zone. Morgan Burnett makes one of the biggest plays of the game by intercepting it.
7:50, 3rd quarter — The Packers offense shows some life again, moving 51 yards in 12 plays and keeping the ball for over six minutes in getting a field goal to make the score 14-13.
The Packers really executed on this drive and even ran a couple plays specifically meant to beat the cover 2. Facing a 3rd-and-9 right off the bat from their own 21, the offense FINALLY runs a route that kills the 2-deep zone, with Finley running a square in right at the 1st down. He is wide open in the middle of the field and Rodgers finds him for a gain of 21 yards. A couple plays later, Rodgers finds Greg Jennings on the skinny post right in front of the safeties for 18 more yards.
The Packers get stymied at the 29. Facing a 3rd-and-7, Rodgers rolls to his right. This is another smart route pattern with several guys running right to the 1st down marker. One of them is Cobb, who runs an out from the slot and is open at the sticks. Even though Rodgers rolls in that direction and Cobb is right in front of him, Rodgers throws for the end zone and overthrows Jarrett Boykin.
After a timeout by Minnesota, Mike McCarthy correctly decides to kick the field goal. If you can’t kick a field goal at home in benign conditions from the 29, then you better start looking for a kicker. Crosby saves his job by making a very important kick for momentum’s sake.
7:02, 3rd quarter — The Vikings go three and out and fail to pull out of their nosedive.
Their first mistake is that they tried a pass on 1st down, which was knocked down by Hayward. On 2nd down they try Peterson, but the Packers have the line stacked and Peterson loses 1. Facing a 3rd-and-11, Ponder tries a deep sideline shot to Simpson, but House has it covered and the pass is out of bounds. Punt.
6:15, 3rd quarter — On the second play of their next drive, the Packers try some chicanery with a double pass — Cobb throwing it back to Rodgers, who then throws it deep for Jennings. Both safeties are back, but the play still has a chance if Rodgers throws it 65 yards. He only throws it 55 and Harrison Smith high-points it for the interception.
The play ends up as good as a punt.
2:20, 3rd quarter — The Packers take advantage of a Vikings three and out and great field position to drive for the go-ahead touchdown.
The Vikings went with three straight Peterson runs, but the Packers stacked 10 men at the line on 3rd-and-1. Both B.J. Raji and A.J. Hawk tore into the backfield. Peterson cut between them and ran right into Brad Jones and Mike Daniels for no gain. The Vikings punt gave the Packers the ball at midfield.
The Packers scored a TD in only four plays. The Packers got an 11-yard run by Green around the right end and then a 7-yard run by Green between Newhouse and Evan Dietrich-Smith. Rodgers then scrambled right and found Greg Jennings alone on the sideline for 11 yards. On the next play from the Minnesota 22, Starks went around the right end and was untouched to the end zone, making the score 20-14.
On that play, Ryan Taylor blocked down on the end and Don Barclay kicked out to take down the outside linebacker, Erin Henderson. Henderson eluded Barclay by cutting underneath him, but that took him out of the play when Starks flew by on the outside. James Jones blocked down on Harrison Smith, opening up the sideline.
0:00, 3rd quarter — The Vikings would attempt to respond by moving deep into Packers territory.
On 3rd-and-4, Ponder escaped the pocket and ran for 11 yards. On the next play, Peterson broke through a hole on the left side again and went 23 yards up the sideline. On the play after that, Ponder rolled to his right and threw one over the head of Toby Gerhart, but Tramon Williams made helmet-to-helmet contact with Gerhart and got flagged for 15 yards, moving the ball to the Green Bay 25.
From there, Ponder tried to hit Rudolph on the out, but Burnett jumped the route and made a very nice interception while diving in front of Rudolph.
4:00, 4th quarter — The Packers would finish an epic 18-play, 11-minute drive with a field goal by Crosby to go up 23-14.
The Packers would convert a 3rd-and-8 with a pass to Jennings that he juggled and caught right at the marker. They would then run Starks twice and convert a 3rd-and-2 with a 3-yard run by Rodgers. The Packers then run Green twice and convert a 3rd-and-5 with a slant to Finley. Faced with 3rd-and-12 three plays later, Rodgers would roll right and find Cobb between defenders for 33 yards, moving the ball to the Minnesota 10-yard line.
The Packers would throw it in reverse from there with a 2-yard sack by Allen, followed by a false start by Dietrich-Smith, but Crosby would kick it right down the middle from 31 yards out, leaving the Vikings down two scores with only four minutes remaining.
The Vikings would drive to the Packers’ 24, with Ponder actually managing to complete some passes to his receivers, but Blair Walsh would miss a field goal from there, which would end the game.
After a brutal 2nd quarter got the Packers in trouble, they rebounded in the second half, outscoring the Vikings 13-0.
Obviously Christian Ponder was a big help with two crucial picks after the Vikings had moved into scoring range in the 3rd quarter, but the second pick was also a great play by Burnett.
The Packers need to be good against the run considering who they are likely to play in the playoffs, but the stat line that Adrian Peterson put on them might not be that telling. His 210 yard total was mostly due to 153 yards he gained on three big runs and I’m not sure that any other running back in football could have broken those runs. Regardless, the Packers safeties need to tackle better.
The crux of the Packers offense remained the same against the familiar 2-deep defense employed by the Vikings — they ran the ball against six guys in the box. This time around, it worked, especially around the right end, where Don Barclay held up well. Regardless of T.J. Lang’s health, I would stick with Barclay until he proves otherwise. Lang struggled in his last matchup with the Lions’ Cliff Avril, so might as well give Barclay the chance.
The real question should be is Lang healthy enough to replace Dietrich-Smith and get his old job back. Dietrich-Smith played his best game so far, but he still was beaten a couple times by the tandem of Everson Griffen and Fred Evans. Marshall Newhouse needs to play better, period. He not only had issues at times with Jared Allen, but also with Griffen.
It was an improvement against the zone that Rodgers found Finley more often and got him involved more. Finley can still be a big weapon against that defense if Rodgers can stick with him. I was also encouraged with some routes by Jennings that utilized the middle of the field. However, overall, Rodgers still looked hesitant against the zone and ran from the pocket too often. Against a better offense, it might have cost the Packers.
I don’t expect Clay Matthews, Jordy Nelson, or Charles Woodson back against Detroit. The Packers have to find a way to win that game, same as they did against Minnesota. Again, the Packers only need to win their home games to make the playoffs. The away games against Chicago and Minnesota will likely decide the division winner.
If the playoffs started today, the Packers would play Seattle at Lambeau in the wild card round.