Packers going to California after putting away punchless Vikings

Jan. 6, 2013

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Green Bay Packers linebacker Erik Walden sacks quarterback Joe Webb in the first quarter of Saturday night's NFC wild-card playoff game at Lambeau Field. Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette Media

Green Bay's wild-card history

The Packers are 6-3 in wild-card games since the NFL expanded to a 12-team playoff format in 1990. A look:

• 2012: Beat Minnesota 24-10 (7 p.m. Saturday at S.F.)
• 2010: Beat Philadelphia 21-16 (won Super Bowl)
• 2009: Lost to Arizona 51-45
• 2004: Lost to Minnesota 31-17
• 2003: Beat Seattle 33-27 (lost in divisional game)
• 2002: Lost to Atlanta 27-7
• 2001: Beat San Francisco 25-15 (lost in div. game)
• 1995: Beat Atlanta 37-20 (lost in NFC champ. game)
• 1994: Beat Detroit 16-12 (lost in divisional game)


This time it wasn’t even close.

Playing at Lambeau Field instead of the rollicking Metrodome, and against a backup quarterback who can run but not throw, the Green Bay Packers tamed Adrian Peterson and hammered the Minnesota Vikings, 24-10, in their NFC wild-card matchup Saturday night.

So just six days after Peterson had steamrolled the Packers for 199 yards in the Vikings’ three-point win in Minneapolis, the Packers advance to the divisional round of the playoffs at the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday.

“It definitely starts and ends with our defense,” coach Mike McCarthy said after the game. “I think they were outstanding for four quarters, set the tempo, kept Minnesota out of the end zone. Obviously adjusting to the quarterback change. The communication and effort of our run defense all stood out.”

This was a completely different game than when the teams split their first two meetings in close contests, both in December. While Peterson was the dominant player on those days, especially last week when the Vikings had to win to get into the playoffs, he was rendered to a subordinate role by late in the first half Saturday night.

In the first two meetings, Peterson took runs that were stuffed up the middle and bounced them outside for nice gains, but one of the NFL’s top candidates for this season’s most valuable player award had almost no success trying that Saturday night. The Packers received their usual stout performance from defensive linemen B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett and C.J. Wilson, but this time outside linebackers Clay Matthews, Dezman Moses and Erik Walden kept Peterson from getting outside, with help from safety Charles Woodson, who played most of the game near the line of scrimmage.

The halfback who had the second-best rushing season in NFL history gained a more-than-manageable 99 yards rushing, with 11- and 18-yard runs his only gains of 10 yards or more.

“Adrian Peterson does a great job extending runs,” McCarthy said, “very similar to what Aaron Rodgers does in the passing game with his ability to extend (passing) plays. They’re very similar players. I thought our defense was extremely disciplined. I thought we dominated the line of scrimmage.”

The game started with a surprise when 90 minutes before kickoff the Vikings put starting quarterback Christian Ponder on their inactive list because of a swollen bursa sac on his throwing elbow sustained last week against the Packers, an injury that dates at least to his senior year of college at Florida State. Though he was listed as questionable going into the game, the assumption was Ponder would be the Vikings’ starter.

Instead, they went with backup Joe Webb. Both quarterbacks are more athletes than polished throwers, but the Vikings were an even more one-dimensional running team with Webb, who is big (6-feet-4, 220 pounds), fast and strong-armed, but as inaccurate a thrower as you’ll find in the NFL.

“We didn’t do a lot of work on Joe,” McCarthy said of the Packers’ preparation. (Ponder’s injury) was something that was out there during the course of the week. We had an elongated day here (Saturday) as coaches, a number of our guys were going back and checking things (on Webb). It didn’t change our game plan a whole lot.”

Webb burned the Packers with a few early bootleg runs and scrambles — he had two for 22 on the Vikings’ first drive, and an 11-yarder on their second possession — but as the game went on, his throwing shortcomings became a greater and greater liability. And after Peterson gained 30 yards on six carries on the game’s first possession, which ended with a 33-yard field goal, he was mostly a nonfactor.

That left an astronomical difference between the quarterbacks, a difference even greater than their numbers suggest. Rodgers played error-free and made enough plays to finish with a passer rating of 104.9 (70 percent completion rate for 274 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions). Webb, on the other hand, missed receivers badly all night and finished with a 54.9 rating (11-for-30 for 180 yards and one touchdown) that was inflated by three completions for 103 yards in the final minutes with the outcome decided.

With the Vikings’ offense posing only a minimal threat by the second quarter, the Packers took over the game late in the first half when they put up 10 quick points in the final 8½ minutes of the second quarter and then a touchdown on the first possession of the third quarter that expanded their lead from 7-3 to 24-3. That’s when Rodgers started going from taking the safe, short dumpoffs and swing passes he’d thrown for the first 1½ quarters and started striking downfield, often after buying extra time by sliding in the pocket or throwing on the run after scrambling.

Though the final yardage totals — the Packers had 326 yards to the Vikings’ 324 — doesn’t come close to reflecting the difference in their performances.

“Our defense tonight played at a championship level,” Rodgers said, “and that’s what you need in the playoffs.”

The Packers’ big run started in the middle of the second quarter when Rodgers bounced around the pocket, stepped up and then threw off one foot a 20-yard completion to James Jones. Later the Packers converted a big fourth-and-5 from the Vikings’ 34 when Rodgers hit receiver Greg Jennings on an out route. Jennings broke cornerback Chris Cook’s tackle and turned the play from a first down into a 32-yard gain to the Vikings’ 2. The Packers failed to punch the ball into the end zone — in between fullback John Kuhn being stuffed twice, tight end Jermichael Finley dropped a tough but catchable throw while diving in the back of the end zone — and Mason Crosby’s 20-yard field goal put the Packers ahead 10-3.

Rodgers got back the ball at his 38 and with 1:48 left, and in three quick-strike throws had the Packers inside the Vikings’ 5. Those completions were a 22-yarder to Jordy Nelson, a 14-yarder to Nelson and a 23-yarder to Nelson when Rodgers scrambled to his right and on the run threw a dart to the Vikings’ 3. Kuhn scored on a 3-yard touchdown run with 38 seconds left in the half, and with a 17-3 lead the rout was on.

“A lot of times 2-minute drives are keyed by a good first play,” Rodgers said. “We had a good completion to Jordy in the 18- to 20-yard range, that got things going for us, and we moved the ball from there.”

The Packers put away the game away by scoring on a third straight possession, their first of the third quarter. Halfback DuJuan Harris gained 32 yards on three carries and two receptions, and the Vikings in effect gave the Packers the full seven points when they had 12 men on the field when the Packers were lining up for a 33-yard field goal on a fourth-and-four. The penalty gave them a first down at the Vikings’ 9, and on the next play Kuhn turned a middle screen pass into a nine-yard touchdown that provided the Packers’ final points of the day with 9:25 left in the third quarter.

“When your defense and special teams play well, that can make up for kind of an average day on offense,” Rodgers said.

The Vikings picked up a late touchdown when the Packers blew coverage on receiver Michael Jenkins, who didn’t have a defender within 29 yards of him on a 50-yard touchdown catch with 3:39 left in the game that cut the Packers’ lead to 24-10. and follow him on Twitter @PeteDougherty.

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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.

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