Uneven defense still seeking 'complete game'

Nov. 24, 2013

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Packers defender Mike Neal sacks Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder in the fourth quarter Sunday at Lambeau Field. / Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette Media


The Green Bay Packers’ defense finally may have exorcised the fourth-quarter demons that plagued them in two losses earlier this month. But their inability to step up in overtime Sunday cost Green Bay a victory.

The Packers needed their defense to prevent the Minnesota Vikings from scoring and end the game after Mason Crosby kicked a 20-yard field goal to give Green Bay the lead in overtime. Once again, however, the defense let them down, allowing a 12-play, 63-yard drive that ended when the Vikings tied the game 26-26.

That’s how it finished, and the Green Bay defense is left to pick through an uneven performance to find the positives.

“We do too much of a roller-coaster dance out there,” linebacker Mike Neal said. “We kind of lost the battle in the third quarter; late in the fourth quarter we picked it up defensively.

“You’ve just got to try to play a complete game, finish the game. We obviously didn’t do that but, I don’t know, it’s kind of hard. I’ve never had a draw before.”

In back-to-back losses to Chicago and Philadelphia, the Packers couldn’t come up with key fourth-quarter stops to give their offense the ball and an opportunity to rally. When the Vikings got a 29-yard field goal following a 12-play, 85-yard drive to go up 23-7 at the outset of the fourth quarter, it didn’t look as though the defense would be put in that position again. A 16-point deficit seemed too tall a task for the slumping Packers.

But then lightning struck as the offense rallied behind quarterback Matt Flynn. The Packers scored on their next three drives, and the defense forced the Vikings to punt on their next three drives. The result was a 23-23 tie and overtime.

“To see how everybody fought after having those last couple of fourth-quarter performances that we’ve had ... or lack thereof,” defensive end Mike Daniels said. “To see how nobody gave up, everybody just continued to press forward, keep their foot on the gas, no matter what. I think that’s going to carry over. It’s definitely a good sign.”

On those three fourth-quarter possessions, Minnesota quarterback Christian Ponder completed 2 of 5 passes for 8 yards, was sacked once and ran twice for zero yards. The Vikings failed to convert on any of their three third-down attempts.

The Packers had the momentum after scoring 16 unanswered fourth-quarter points, and they had the lead in overtime after Flynn engineered a 10-play, 77-yard drive to set up Crosby’s field goal.

But then came Toby Gerhart. To be certain, Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson did some damage — his 15-yard run on third-and-9 on the possession’s third play kept the drive alive — but it was Peterson’s backup, Gerhart, who did most of the work in overtime.

Gerhart had runs of 9, 12, 11 and 1 to help set up the Vikings’ game-tying 35-yard field goal. Neither team could score in the overtime’s remaining 6:36.

“We know our offense got down there and gave us those points,” linebacker A.J. Hawk said. “It was up to us, it was an opportunity for us as a defense to step up, and we just couldn’t get it done. It was almost like a little bit earlier in the game when they were driving and we just didn’t have any answers for them.”

The Vikings rushed for 232 yards on 43 carries. Peterson rushed 32 times for 146 yards, and Gerhart ran 8 times for 91 yards. Ponder, who seems to dial up his best efforts against the Packers, had a 103.9 quarterback rating after completing 21 of 30 passes for 233 yards and a touchdown.

Packers defensive lineman Ryan Pickett summed it up this way: “It’s not even just the defensive line, it’s the defense. We’ve got to just do better, we’ve got to tackle better. Playing (Peterson), if somebody misses, you’ve got to do a good job of rallying, getting there, and we just didn’t get it done.”

Now, Green Bay has three days to prepare for a Thanksgiving Day game at Detroit. At least one Packers player sees that as an advantage.

“For some guys, for me personally, I think that at least you can carry that pissed-off feeling into the game Thursday,” Neal said. “You don’t have to wait. I like that feeling. I’m mad, and I’m ready to play.”

rzizzo@pressgazettemedia.com or follow him on Twitter @robertzizzo.

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