Pete, Wes and Ryan break down the Packers' 24-21 victory over the Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium (Nov. 23, 2014). Weston Hodkiewicz
MINNEAPOLIS -- It was inevitable that the Green Bay Packers would need to lean on Eddie Lacy and their ground game to win a football game at some point this season.
When that moment finally arrived Sunday, the second-year running back and his offensive line didn't disappoint.
Fighting an illness few of his teammates even realized he had, Lacy rushed for a season-high 125 yards on 25 carries and authored two of the Packers' three touchdowns in a 24-21 win over the Minnesota Vikings in front of the 52,386 packed into TCF Bank Stadium.
The finest hour came with 3 minutes, 23 seconds remaining when coach Mike McCarthy entrusted the run game to seal the team's seventh victory in its past eight games. He called Lacy's number five consecutive times. He answered, rushing for 27 yards and converting a third-and-2 situation to run out the clock.
Lacy, who didn't speak to the media after the win, never let on that he was battling a bug. Those in attendance could only see him barreling for one first down after another, but starting left guard Josh Sitton knew the truth.
"I knew he wasn't feeling great," Sitton said. "He's a tough son of a (expletive). ... You could see it on his face a little bit that he wasn't feeling too good. He's just tough, man."
The Vikings, who were run out of Lambeau Field last month in a 42-10 defeat, relied on two-high safety formations and coach Mike Zimmer's patented double-A-gap blitz to hedge against the trio of Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb torching them through the air.
It worked to some extent. Rodgers was held to 209 passing yards and two touchdowns, while Nelson and Cobb combined to catch 12 passes for 126 yards, but none more than 30 yards.
Minnesota's attention to the aerial game left the door open for the running game's resurgence. Although the Packers have found creative ways to increase Lacy's workload, they haven't run the ball with as much regularity as they did during his offensive rookie of the year season.
In fact, he hadn't carried the ball more than 20 times all season and surpassed the 100-yard threshold only once. It also had been a day short of a year since the last time he had 25 attempts in a game, which coincidentally came against Minnesota in a 26-26 tie on Nov. 24, 2013.
The Vikings put up more of a fight this time despite a slew of Teddy Bridgewater overthrows. They never led, but prevented the Packers from mounting a two-score cushion until their second-to-last possession. Of course, it was Lacy doing the honors when he rumbled in for a 10-yard touchdown off a shovel pass.
After his 1-yard touchdown run started the Packers' scoring in the first quarter, Lacy was responsible for 38 of the Packers' 87 yards in the 11-play series, which was the Packers' longest and most time-consuming drive (6:18) of the game.
"It was huge, just the timing of it," McCarthy said. "You could see the way the game was going with limited series there in the second half, especially after our first series and when we got in those long down-and-distances with the penalties. It was important for us to establish a drive there, a long drive, and score that touchdown."
The rushing offense's biggest test came on its final series after Bridgewater pulled the Vikings back within a score following a 5-yard touchdown pass to Greg Jennings. The defense bent on the 13-play, 79-yard series, but forced Minnesota to run 5:11 off the clock.
With 3:23 left and the Vikings with two timeouts, the Packers turned to Lacy and their jumbo formation, which earned them 3- and 5-yard gains to start the series. Facing a third-and-2, McCarthy and Rodgers weighed whether to run or throw the ball.
When the huddle broke, the MVP quarterback put the game in Lacy's hands and everything fell into place. Right guard T.J. Lang and center Corey Linsley cleared their linebackers, Lacy pounced through the hole for a 4-yard gain and a fresh set of downs.
"We had a play that we'd run a couple times for first downs actually earlier in the game," Rodgers said. "The way that Eddie was running the football, and the line, you have to give the line a voice. Those guys know the pulse of the game there, especially late in the game there. They felt like a run was something we could get."
The Packers flirted with the idea of becoming a run-first offense going into the season after Lacy's breakout rookie campaign, but the running game's slow start resulted in McCarthy putting the ball back into Rodgers' hands and a pass-first philosophy.
A backfield platoon was installed with Lacy and James Starks, but even that has slowly eroded with time. When Starks fumbled on his first carry on the offense's third series Sunday, the Packers turned solely to Lacy and fullback John Kuhn in the backfield.
Sixty-five of his 138 total yards came on the Packers' final two possessions. That production made Lacy the first Packers running back to record more than 100 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown reception in three consecutive games.
It's a different situation than the first month of the season when Lacy was averaging 3.0 yards per carry and Green Bay's run offense was ranked 28th in the league.
"He's been our run game the whole year," Linsley said. "(Everything from) our offensive line to Eddie has been criticized. Games like this when we really need it, we stepped up and we got it."
The Packers (8-3) have won their three games since the bye week behind Rodgers' brilliance passing the ball, but it was Lacy's tenacity that helped pull them ahead of Detroit for the NFC North lead following the Lions' 34-9 loss to New England, which Green Bay will host next Sunday.
The Packers' offense has proven it can put up points with the best of the NFL. Green Bay showed it could run the ball if teams are going to try to take away the passing game, which should help their chances in cold-weather games.
When the game was on the line, Minnesota knew the Packers were going to run the ball with Lacy and there was nothing Zimmer or anyone else on the Vikings' sideline could do to stop it.
"You go 4-minute offense and you've got a chance to go run the clock out, that's what we get paid for, man," Lang said. "That's what we take a lot of pride in is being able to run the ball when everybody in the damned stadium knows you're going to run it. We take a lot of pride in what we do up front, and that's our time to really shine and make sure we're doing our job and giving Eddie or whoever's carrying the ball plenty of room to get some first downs and run the clock out."