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Vikings win, so we'll do it again

Walsh's game-winning field goal sets up rematch next week at Lambeau Field

Dec. 30, 2012
 

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Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers shows his frustration after fumbling during the third quarter of Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis. Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette Media

Packers' 2013 schedule

Home games
Chicago Bears
Detroit Lions
Minnesota Vikings
Washington Redskins
Philadelphia Eagles
Pittsburgh Steelers
Cleveland Browns
Atlanta Falcons

Road games
Chicago Bears
Detroit Lions
Minnesota Vikings
New York Giants
Dallas Cowboys
Cincinnati Bengals
Baltimore Ravens
San Francisco 49ers

Playoff pairings

Saturday’s wild-card games
Cincinnati at Houston, 3:30 p.m., NBC
Minnesota at Green Bay, 7 p.m., NBC

Sunday’s wild-card games
Indianapolis at Baltimore, noon, CBS
Seattle at Washington, 3:30 p.m., Fox

More

MINNEAPOLIS — The Green Bay Packers’ road to the Super Bowl got longer and tougher on Sunday afternoon.

With the chance to wrap up the No. 2 seed and first-round bye in the NFC playoffs, the Packers couldn’t contain the Vikings’ stallion of a halfback, Adrian Peterson, and lost on a final-play chip-shot field goal, 37-34, at the raucous Metrodome in a game the Vikings had to win to get into the playoffs.

So instead of getting a week off for rest, the third-seeded Packers must turn around and play in less than a week. They face these same Vikings and the nearly unstoppable Peterson for the third time in six weeks, this time in a win-or-go-home wild-card playoff game Saturday night at Lambeau Field.

“The opportunity to get the bye does not exist anymore,” coach Mike McCarthy said after Blair Walsh’s 29-yard field goal as time ran out won the game. “So the playoffs start now. We’re one of six (teams) in the NFC. We know what the bye looks like, we know what this position looks like, so it’s time to kick it forward to playoff football. It’s as simple as that. We’re disappointed we lost today, but at the end of the day, there’s six NFC teams left, and we’re going to line up and play at home at Lambeau Field in front of our crowd.”

The Packers (11-5) are living proof that the bye can mean nothing. Last year they had the bye and were knocked out in the divisional round of the playoffs by the New York Giants; the year before, they won three straight road playoff games and then the Super Bowl as the No. 6 seed.

But this was a game they wanted, because among other things it would have knocked a division rival out of the playoffs. A win not only would have ensured the Packers a bye but also would have meant a game at Lambeau in the divisional round of the playoffs. Instead, if the Packers defeat the Vikings next week, they’ll have to go to San Francisco for a divisional-round game against the 49ers.

“A lot of us wanted that extra week,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “It maybe would have helped with Randall (Cobb’s) and Charles (Woodson’s) injuries. But this was a playoff atmosphere today. We played tough and came back. We were down early. We have nothing to be ashamed of. We played a team that was desperate. They had an MVP-caliber player running the ball real well on that side. We made some plays down the stretch to get back in it, but they eventually took it from us.”

This was a playoff game for the Vikings, who at 10-6 are the NFC’s No. 6 seed. They won what turned into a rare second-half shootout — rare in that it was between a running back, Peterson, whose 199 yards rushing left him only 9 yards shy of setting the NFL’s single-season rushing record, and a quarterback, Rodgers, who had a 131.8 passer rating and threw for 365 yards and four touchdowns.

Both were nearly unstoppable down the stretch. The Packers scored 21 points on their last three possessions, the Vikings put up 17 points with scores on three of the last four times they touched the ball.

But the difference from the teams’ meeting at Lambeau four weeks ago was that Peterson’s efforts didn’t go for naught because the Vikings’ second-year quarterback, Christian Ponder, didn’t make any game-turning errors.

When the Packers beat the Vikings 24-13 on Dec. 2, Ponder twice threw into coverage for red-zone interceptions that cost the Vikings anywhere from six to 14 points. But on Sunday, he avoided the big error (no interceptions), and though he didn’t make many plays, had a couple of big throws in the fourth quarter.

One was a 65-yard pinpoint bomb to receiver Jarius Wright, who had run by cornerback Sam Shields, that set up the Vikings’ final touchdown. The other was a 25-yarder that converted a third-and-11 when receiver Michael Jenkins found a huge hole along the sideline between defensive backs Casey Hayward, Sam Shields and Morgan Burnett. That kept alive the game-winning drive that ended with rookie Pro Bowler Blair Walsh kicking the game-winner.

So since those two costly interceptions against the Packers, Ponder in the last four games has thrown one total. Running a bootleg- and play-action oriented passing game off Peterson, he played it safe from start to finish Sunday and put up a 120.2 rating that included 234 yards passing and three touchdown passes of 8 yards or less.

“In this league today, teams are relying so heavily on throwing the football,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said, “but we know we can win with the formula we have in place. Evidenced by what’s happened this season. We’re in the playoffs with that formula. We talked about it going all the way back to the spring when we began to work with our players. They believe in it and know how we’re going to win in Minnesota.”

That formula begins with Peterson, who might have won the NFL MVP with his performance in this game. The day’s enduring image will be his dervish runs through and around the Packers’ defense on carry after carry.

This wasn’t a case of Peterson breaking off one or two long runs to give him impressive numbers. Instead, he lit up the Metrodome crowd and teammates time and again by shedding tacklers, and cutting back sharply or bouncing runs outside for nice gains. He had seven runs that ranged from 12 to 28 yards and finished with a 5.9-yard average on his 34 carries.

Twenty minutes after the game, Ryan Pickett, one of the Packers’ main run stoppers, sat exhausted in front of his locker still trying catch his breath.

“You know it’s coming,” Pickett said. “Just stopping it is a whole ’nother thing. Even if we do everything right, he’ll break a tackle. I don’t know (how he does it). God-given ability. He’s special, able to get out of stuff most backs can’t. His lateral movement.”

Safety M.D. Jennings said: “He can make cuts no other back in the league can make. He can reverse field, he can run away from you, run through you. He can do it all.”

So now the Packers will prepare for Saturday night’s rematch. This will be the third time in the last six games these teams have game planned for each other, so there aren’t many secrets left.

“It’s just a mind game at this point,” Packers cornerback Tramon Willliams said.

Rodgers said: “You get to go back home and the game will be a different type of game. They won’t have the home-crowd advantage and hopefully that will make a difference.”

pdougher@greenbaypressgazette.com and follow him on Twitter @PeteDougherty.

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