Green Bay Packers safety Morgan Burnett (42) intercepts a Christian Ponder pass in front of Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph in the third quarter Sunday at Lambeau Field. Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette Media
Let’s give credit where credit is due. Christian Ponder, take a bow. You earned it.
You brought your best Tarvaris Jackson imitation Sunday and treated the fans at Lambeau to two red zone interceptions — including one in the end zone with your team ahead 14-10 in the third quarter — completed only 12 passes, and only three to wide receivers, the guys who are paid to specifically do just that.
You got multiple standing ovations on the afternoon from a stadium full of people who wished you ill, and you took it upon yourself to grant their wish. Nicely done.
Now the Packers have a lot of people to thank for their 23-14 win over your Minnesota Vikings but you, Christian, were the solid selection for G-Force player of the game.
As for your North Division-leading Packers, they didn’t exactly bounce back with a vengeance after their public undressing in the Meadowlands at the hands of the New York Giants last week.
They once again proved they can do just enough to beat teams they are supposed to beat. They did not dominate the Vikings, as many expected and certainly hoped they would; they managed to get by.
But with just four regular-season games remaining, any sign of hope that this team can be a true Super Bowl contender is reason for a certain level of optimism.
Against the Vikings it came in two forms — a running game that produced 152 yards, which was their second-highest total of the season and only the second time they topped 150 yards on the ground — and an 11-minute scoring drive that reminded you of those mid-’90s teams that could have written a book on how to properly deliver the kill shot in the NFL.
“We haven’t one of those in a while,’’ said quarterback Aaron Rodgers of the 18-play, 73-yard spirit crusher. “We haven’t been able to control the clock like that and it says a lot about the toughness of those guys.’’
No, it wasn’t a highlight film excursion down the field. There were two holding penalties, one of which was declined, and a false start violation. The longest run from scrimmage was nine yards.
But the Packers were able to deliver a series of body blows, converted four-of-five third-down chances and finished with a successful Mason Crosby field goal — a victory in itself — that made it a two-score game with just 4:00 to play.
“That’s the biggest thing,’’ said tight end Tom Crabtree. “Not only did we take a lot of time off the clock and come away with points; made it a two possession game. That was huge. That left them with not a whole lot of time and down two scores. That’s exactly what we needed in that situation.’’
That is how good teams, championship-caliber teams, close out games. It’s not the only way, of course, but sucking the life and hope out of your opposition late in the game severely limits the chances of anything crazy taking place which leads to sleepless nights — like in Seattle.
Putting away teams with 11-minute drives has not been the Packers’ M.O. Not even nine, eight, or seven-minute drives. This team has always been about quick strikes, not slow death. The running backs haven’t been good enough, nor has the run blocking, and that’s one important reason why coach Mike McCarthy has been unwilling to make the commitment.
And that’s an easy conclusion to reach when your quarterbacks is an NFL MVP and your receivers are some of the best around. But at this time of year, it's not the most prudent path to victory.
The Vikings are not to be confused with the Giants or Bears or 49ers; their defense rates as just average.
But a running game that can be productive and kill the clock come playoff time would be a tremendous asset in the Packers’ corner.
It’s not the identity of this team, but if it’s able to take on this personality over the next four games it will be far better off because of it when January rolls around.
“Hopefully we can change that,’’ said left tackle Marshall Newhouse, “and make that a habit, definitely.’’
It’s a habit that may not only be wise, but necessary if the Packers are to become what they hope to be.
Mike Woods: 920-993-1000, ext. 232; or firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @PCMikeW