Defense grinds out 4-quarter victory
MINNEAPOLIS -- Nothing easy. No big plays. No quick scores.
Ideally, the Green Bay Packers' defense would have forced a punt or game-clinching turnover late in the fourth quarter Sunday, something to slam the door emphatically on a road win. There also was a secondary goal.
When the Minnesota Vikings got the football with more than 8 minutes left, down 11 points and 79 yards from the end zone, cornerback Tramon Williams knew the situation. Green Bay needed to make Minnesota drain the clock. In his head, Williams went through the checklist.
No big plays.
No quick scores.
"When it comes down to a tight game situation like that, the last thing you want to do is give them something easy," Williams said. "What you really want to do is make guys work for it. That keeps the clock rolling, and then hopefully you can get off of the field.
"We didn't get off the field, but we made them work for it."
The Packers escaped with a 24-21 win against the Vikings on Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. It was the type of game Green Bay hasn't played since it returned from the bye week and November began. Williams called it a "grind."
Minnesota clawed back into the game on its final drive, but it wasn't easy. The Packers forced the Vikings to methodically march. After 13 plays, more than 5 minutes and a successful 2-point conversion, Minnesota finally pulled within a field goal.
By then, all the Packers needed was to convert three first downs and fly back to Green Bay.
"Very pleased with the way our guys battled for four quarters," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.
Time hasn't been an issue recently for Green Bay. Late-game situations have been limited to veterans standing on the sidelines, watching their backups dutifully clean up garbage time. Blowouts can be fun. They're beneficial, keeping key players off the field for extended periods.
The "grind" is how teams learn to win.
For Green Bay's defense, the victory didn't erase the disappointment with how the game finished. Sitting at his locker, still wearing his pads, defensive end Mike Daniels called the Vikings' final touchdown a "concern." Fellow defensive end Datone Jones called it an "eye opener." Linebacker Clay Matthews said it stung their pride.
"As a defense, you take pride in your work, especially when it's your opportunity and you're called to keep up your end of the bargain," Matthews said. "We'll see where we came short, because obviously it looked like they moved the ball and had some success on those third downs. We've got to do a better job of getting off the field and allowing us to give the ball back to our offense.
"So, yeah, there's some pride involved in giving up that, and not only that but the 2-point conversion. At the end of the day, a win's a win."
Matthews and his teammates weren't about to apologize for a win. Even if the Packers were supposed to roll over the Vikings much like they did the Chicago Bears and Philadelphia Eagles at home the past two weeks, there were no hung heads after beating a division rival on the road.
Green Bay had plenty of positives to build from. Once again, it won the turnover battle. The defense held Minnesota to 5-of-13 on third down. Rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was erratic, finishing 21-of-37 for 210 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and a 79.8 passer rating.
After sealing the win with a final first down, right guard T.J. Lang said there was only satisfaction. No regrets.
"You're not going to win every single game by 30-plus points in this league," Lang said. "There's going to be some tough ones you've got to grind out. To win the close ones at the end of games, it's just another identity of a good football team being able to close out the close games, especially on the road."
Williams predicted Sunday wouldn't be easy.
All week, the veteran cornerback warned about the difficulties of playing rivalry games on the road. Even if chants of "Go, Pack, go!" echoed through the "cool, little venue" – as Matthews called TCF Bank Stadium – it still was mostly a hostile crowd. So Williams anticipated a close game.
Because there is nothing easy. Not in the NFL. No matter what the Packers' recent home blowouts indicated.
"I was expecting it all week. I said, 'When we go out here to Minnesota, it's going to be a tight game. Watch, guys,' " Williams said. "Sure enough, that's what it is, because typically that's what division games are. It's usually tighter games. I can't explain it. Just know that guys are familiar with you, and you're familiar with them. At the end of the day, that's the only thing you can expect. So it was one of our most impressive wins."
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