Thumbs up to Rodgers, down to pass defense
Written off by many after losing four straight and falling to 4-6, the Packers will play for the NFC North title when they visit the Lions on New Year’s Day after extending their winning streak to five Saturday by beating the Vikings 38-25. Detroit’s game at Dallas on Monday night will have no bearing on the division title. If the Lions (9-5) win, they would lead the Packers (9-6) by a game, but Green Bay would win the tiebreaker if it completes a sweep of the season series against Detroit. Either way, it’s winner-take-all for the division. Should the Packers lose, they still could be in the running for an NFC wild-card berth at 9-7.
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BOX SCORE: Packers 38, Vikings 25
The Packers led only 21-13 midway through the second quarter after the Vikings’ Sam Bradford and Adam Thielen connected on a 71-yard TD pass, and Minnesota got the ball back after Aaron Rodgers was sacked on consecutive plays just over two minutes before intermission. The Vikings were in Packers’ territory with less than a minute remaining when Clay Matthews hit Bradford and forced a fumble that was recovered by Mike Daniels. Rodgers quickly capitalized, engineering a five-play, 54-yard drive capped by his six-yard TD scamper that gave Green Bay a commanding 28-13 halftime lead.
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Rodgers’ mobility has been limited since he sustained a left hamstring injury Nov. 28 against the Eagles and a right calf injury the next week against Houston. But he looked like the elusive Rodgers of old on his TD run, scrambling back beyond the 25-yard line to elude pass rusher Everson Griffen and then sidestepping Xavier Rhodes at the goal line to get in for the score. His precision passing was even more impressive: 28 of 38 for 347 yards, 4 TDs, no interceptions and a passer rating of 136.6. Rodgers became the fourth quarterback in NFL history with 35,000 passing yards and 2,500 rushing yards, joining Fran Tarkenton, John Elway and Donovan McNabb.
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Bradford burned the Packers back in Week 2 when he and receiver Stefon Diggs repeatedly torched second-year cornerback Damarious Randall. This time it was Bradford throwing to Thielen, who had 12 catches for 202 yards and 2 TDs. Bradford finished 34 of 50 for 382 yards and 3 TDs with no interceptions and a passer rating of 110.6, meaning Green Bay’s secondary without cornerback Sam Shields remains its weakest link. And things could get worse if cornerback LaDarius Gunter, who left with an elbow injury in the second quarter, misses any more time. To his credit, Randall responded to being benched last week and kept out of Saturday’s starting lineup by making some big pass breakups in relief of Gunter.
RANTS AND RAVES
RAVE: Jordy Nelson saved the day last Sunday with a big 60-yard catch to help beat the Bears, and Saturday he was virtually unstoppable. Getting open seemingly at will in the middle of the Minnesota defense, Nelson had nine catches for 154 yards and 2 TDs. Davante Adams was determined to bounce back after two costly end-zone drops against the Bears, and although he endured another Saturday, Adams contributed four catches for 44 yards and a TD. Filling in for the injured Randall Cobb, rookie Geronimo Allison also flashed with four catches for 66 yards.
RANT: Rodgers was sacked four times and absorbed 10 quarterback hits against a blitz-happy Vikings defense, and Packers fans held their breath when their franchise quarterback was sandwiched on a third-quarter sack by Eric Kendricks and Danielle Hunter. Rodgers was slow getting up and said afterward he suffered a “stinger” on the play. On a day in which Oakland's Derek Carr and Tennessee's Marcus Mariota apparently suffered major leg injuries, the Packers were fortunate that Rodgers was able to return to the game and escape without sustaining further damage.
RAVE: Matthews has been playing with one arm since suffering a shoulder injury on a vicious block in Philadelphia and since had barely made a blip on the stat sheet. But defensive coordinator Dom Capers preached that it was worth putting Matthews out there just for the possibility of a game-changing play, and that’s what the Packers got when the veteran outside linebacker stripped Bradford of the ball on his sack and Daniels recovered the fumble. Matthews also deflected two passes, had three tackles and three quarterback hits and applied the pressure that led to a Daniels sack on the first play of the second half.
RANT: So do the Packers have a ground game or not? Ty Montgomery seemingly had a breakout performance against the Bears, rushing for 162 yards and two touchdowns and looking every bit like a No. 1 running back. Against the Vikings? A pedestrian 23 yards on nine carries. His running mate, Christine Michael, had four yards on four yards. Granted, the Packers were moving the ball so well through the air that they didn't need much on the ground, but it does leave open to debate whether their offense is balanced enough to make a deep playoff run.
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DID YOU NOTICE?
• Nelson’s two TD catches gave him an NFL-leading 14 on the season and also made him the first Packers receiver ever to have 13 or more three times in his career. He and Rodgers now have teamed for 59 career TD passes, setting a franchise combination record (Brett Favre and Antonio Freeman had shared the mark with 57).
• Rodgers’ four scoring passes gave him 36 on the season. It marks the fourth time Rodgers has thrown 35 or more TD passes in a season, a franchise record (Favre did it three times).
• When Rodgers hit Nelson on a four-yard toss in the fourth quarter, it was his 373rd completion of the season, another franchise record.
• Rodgers also now has five seasons of more than 4,000-yard passing and 30-plus passing TDs, extending his team record.
• The Packers improved to 17-12 in regular-season Saturday games since 1925 by winning their fifth such game in a row (they hadn’t played one since 1997). It marked the third time the Packers had played the Vikings on Saturday in the regular season (1973, ’91).