GREEN BAY – For the fourth straight season, the Green Bay Packers’ season finale will be a winner-take-all NFC North title game.
The Packers took care of some last-minute Christmas business Saturday against the Minnesota Vikings, breezing to a 38-25 victory at Lambeau Field. It was their fifth straight win, all coming since quarterback Aaron Rodgers boldly said his team could "run the table” in late November.
The Packers seemingly have come from nowhere, rebounding from a 4-6 record to enter Week 17 at 9-6. They will travel to Detroit (9-5) next Sunday for their winner-take-all game against the Lions on New Years Day.
A win and the Packers will punch their eighth straight trip to the playoffs, no matter the outcome of Monday’s game between the Lions and Dallas Cowboys.
Kicker Mason Crosby’s season-long 48-yard field goal gave the Packers a 31-13 lead at the start of the fourth quarter. They led by 17 points in the fourth quarter a week ago in Chicago, only to see the Bears come back and force a tie late. This time, the Packers put away the Vikings, pushing their lead to 38-13 before the Vikings made it closer with two late touchdowns.
BOX SCORE: Packers 38, Vikings 25
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REPLAY: Nagler talks Packers victory
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Here’s a quick look at the Packers fifth straight win:
Chicken or egg: It was hard to distinguish whether quarterback Aaron Rodgers or receiver Jordy Nelson deserved the game ball on offense. Rodgers had a nearly flawless game, completing 28 of 38 passes (73.6 percent) for 347 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and a 136.6 passer rating. He added a 6-yard rushing touchdown and became the fourth quarterback in NFL history to pass for 35,000 yards and rush for 2,500 yards in a career, joining John Elway, Fran Tarkenton and Donovan McNabb. It was a stark contrast to Rodgers’ struggles in Week 2 at Minnesota, arguably the worst game he has played since becoming a starter in 2008. But the difference Saturday, and the key to Rodgers’ resurgence this season, was Nelson. Lining up mostly in the slot with Randall Cobb inactive, Nelson caught nine passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns. He increased his NFL lead with 14 touchdown catches this season, one shy of his career high in 2011. He also passed Don Hutson for fourth all-time in Packers history in receptions. The special connection between Rodgers and Nelson was key to the NFL’s most prolific offense in 2014, and it appears to have returned. On Saturday, Rodgers and Nelson passed Brett Favre and Antonio Freeman for most touchdowns (59) between a quarterback and receiver in franchise history.
Clay Matthews is back: Earlier in the week, Matthews said his shoulder was much closer to feeling 100 percent. It looked that way Saturday. Matthews had at least four pressures, including a game-turning strip sack near the end of the first half. He also drew one holding penalty after badly beating Vikings left tackle T.J. Clemmings in the third quarter, and batted two passes. Matthews, playing through shoulder and hamstring injuries this season, had recorded just one sack since the Packers' first game in October and none in his previous three games. Matthews’ shoulder had been a major problem in recent weeks, with Matthews being held without a tackle in two of his previous three games. If he’s back to being anywhere near 100 percent healthy, Matthews could be a game-changing presence for a defense that has really struggled.
Secondary still porous: When Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford wasn’t flat on his back Saturday (the Packers sacked him four times), he was usually completing passes downfield. A week after having a mediocre-at-best game against an iffy Indianapolis Colts pass defense, Bradford completed 32 of 48 passes for 368 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, a passer rating of 110.4. In Week 2, the Packers couldn’t cover Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs. It was Adam Thielen who torched their secondary Saturday, finishing with 12 catches for 202 yards and two touchdowns. If the Packers are able to finish off their run with a NFC North title, fixing the secondary remains the top priority to an extended postseason run.