Insider: Clutch catches key game-clinching drive

Dec. 2, 2012

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Green Bay Packers tight end Jermichael Finley is brought down Minnesota Vikings cornerback A. J. Jefferson after picking up a first down in the fourth quarter Sunday at Lambeau Field. H. Marc Larson/Press-Gazette Media


The Insider's take on Sunday's game between the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field. The Packers won 23-14.

The big picture

Things couldn’t have gone much better for the Green Bay Packers in terms of the playoff picture on Sunday. Shortly after they wrapped up their 23-14 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday at Lambeau Field, the Packers watched the Seattle Seahawks knock off the Chicago Bears in overtime, a result that left the Packers and Bears tied atop the NFC North at 8-4. The Packers won this season’s first meeting and play at Chicago on Dec. 16. Meanwhile, they gained ground on another NFC contender when the San Francisco 49ers fell to 8-3-1 after an overtime loss to the St. Louis Rams.

Thumbs up

The Packers’ 18-play drive that milked 11 minutes off the clock to start the fourth quarter won’t soon be forgotten. But it never would have happened if not for key third-down catches by Greg Jennings, Jermichael Finley and Randall Cobb. The drive almost ended at the Packers’ 28-yard line. On third-and-8, Jennings bobbled the ball on dig route and nearly dropped it. Even after Jennings managed to the secure the catch, it wasn’t confirmed as a first down until after a measurement. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers said Jennings was the fourth read in his progression on that play. The drive nearly stalled once again on a third-and-5 from the Vikings’ 48-yard line. Rodgers threw a slant to tight end Jermichael Finley, who caught the ball short of the marker and had to fight off two defenders — safety Harrison Smith and cornerback A.J. Jefferson — to get the first down. Finally, on third-and-12 from the Vikings’ 43, Rodgers found Cobb deep for a 33-yard catch against tight coverage from safety Mistral Raymond. Though the drive eventually stalled, and the Packers had to settle for Mason Crosby’s 31-yard field goal with four minutes to play, those third down plays helped them run off enough time to prevent the Vikings from mounting a comeback.

Thumbs down

Against a running back like Adrian Peterson, who came into the game as the NFL’s rushing leader, the Packers knew their tackling needed to be on form. Even perfect technique doesn’t always stop him. But the Packers were far from perfect, and it helped Peterson to a monster day: 210 yards on 21 carries, including an 82-yard touchdown. The Packers will say that if you take away Peterson’s two longest runs — the 82-yarder in the second quarter and a 48-yarder to start the third quarter — the numbers would have been respectable (80 yards on 19 carries), but unfortunately for them it doesn’t work that way. Both of Peterson’s long runs were the result of shoddy tackling. On the 82-yarder, safety Morgan Burnett got sucked in and then dove at Peterson’s legs at the Vikings’ 25-yard line. Then, 5 yards later, safety M.D. Jennings reached too high, allowing Peterson to shed him at the 30, right about the same spot cornerback Tramon Williams tried to grab him by the shoulder pads from behind. On his 48-yard gain, Peterson avoided a diving attempt by Burnett at the Vikings’ 43-yard line and then made safety Jerron McMillian miss with a spin move at midfield.

Play of the game

Give Rodgers a shot at a free play, and he’s going to take it down the field. Sure enough, when Vikings defensive tackle Letroy Guion jumped, Rodgers fired a pass down the left sideline to James Jones, who caught a 32-yard touchdown by out-jumping cornerback A.J. Jefferson and plucking the ball way in the end zone even though Jefferson had inside position.

Turning point

The Vikings thought they had a good chance to add to their 14-10 second-quarter lead when defensive end Jared Allen intercepted a pass that defensive tackle Kevin Williams tipped at the line of scrimmage, but the play was wiped out because defensive end Everson Griffen drilled Rodgers late and was penalized for unnecessary roughness. The Vikings would have taken possession at the Packers’ 16-yard line if not for the penalty.

Did you notice?

• A week after the Packers used him for only 21 plays in the sub package, rookie Casey Hayward was back as the starting right cornerback and played in base, nickel and dime.

• Though rookie Jerel Worthy started at right defensive end in place of the injured C.J. Wilson, Mike Neal eventually replaced him in the base defense.

• Rodgers’ interception — his eighth of the season — came on a trick play. It was a toss play to Cobb, who threw it back to Rodgers. But the Vikings didn’t fall for it and had double coverage on Rodgers’ deep throw for Jennings that was picked off by Smith at the Vikings’ 6-yard line.

By the numbers

• 5: Consecutive 3,000-yard passing seasons for Rodgers, who by throwing for 286 yards on Sunday now has 3,124 yards for the season.

• 5: Consecutive wins against the Vikings, the Packers’ longest winning streak in the series since another five-game run from 2006-08.

• 10: Consecutive division wins by the Packers, setting a franchise record. and follow him on Twitter @RobDemovsky.

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If you've ever answered "Who has the ball?" with "It's halftime," you might recognize The Airhead. Check out the characters in our cartoon gallery of oddball fans.

Special Reports