Aaron Rodgers got plenty of help. Adrian Peterson got none at all.
The Green Bay Packers won a key NFC showdown against the division-rival Minnesota Vikings 23-14 on Sunday at Lambeau Field. The Packers (8-4) stayed comfortably in the playoff chase while the Vikings (6-6) are in deep trouble after losing for the fourth time in five games.
Rodgers completed 27-of-35 passes for 286 yards with one touchdown and one interception but a big helping hand from running backs Alex Green and James Starks, who combined for 124 rushing yards to help a balanced attack.
Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder, on the other hand, went about two-and-a-half quarters without completing a pass.
The Packers took a 20-14 lead with 2:12 remaining in the third quarter in unconventional fashion. Green Bay entered the game ranked 23rd in rushing, 25th in yards per carry and last with two rushing touchdowns. On a four-play, 51-yard drive, Green ran for 11 and 7, Rodgers hit Greg Jennings for 11 and Starks ran around right end for a 22-yard touchdown.
The Vikings threatened on the ensuing possession, with Peterson’s 23-yard run putting him over 200 for the day. On the next play, Ponder went deep to Toby Gerhart, with the ball falling incomplete but Tramon Williams penalized for hitting a defenseless receiver. With Packers coach Mike McCarthy livid on the sideline over the penalty, Morgan Burnett recorded his second interception of the day when he broke in front of a pass to tight end Kyle Rudolph on the final play of the third quarter.
The Packers ran the ball 10 times on an 18-play, 73-yard drive that took exactly 11 minutes off the clock, with Mason Crosby’s 31-yard field goal making it 23-14 with 4 minutes to play.
That made for a daunting challenge for Ponder, who hadn’t completed a pass since hitting Kyle Rudolph for a touchdown with 12:23 left in the second quarter, had gone 0-for-5 with an interception to that point in the second half and hadn’t completed a pass to a wide receiver for the entire game. Ponder hit a few passes but failed to convert a third down, and Blair Walsh missed from 42 yards on the final play before the two-minute conversion.
Green Bay got back receiver Greg Jennings but lost fellow receiver Jordy Nelson (hamstring) and left guard-turned-right tackle T.J. Lang (ankle) to injuries in the first half. Don Barclay, an undrafted free agent, replaced Lang at right tackle and appeared to play very well.
The Packers, coming off a 38-10, prime-time thumping at the New York Giants last week, bolted to a 10-0 lead. They marched 75 yards on the opening possession, aided by two offside penalties. On the second of those, Rodgers took advantage of a free play by hitting James Jones for a 32-yard touchdown on a jump ball over A.J. Jefferson.
Peterson, however, turned the tide, either with the ball or on play-action fakes. Minnesota cut the margin to 10-7 early in the second quarter when Ponder, one play after losing 4 yards upon fumbling the snap, hit Rudolph for a 7-yard touchdown. Then, on third-and-1, Peterson rumbled 82 yards for a touchdown by breaking feeble tackle attempts by safeties Burnett and M.D. Jennings and cornerback Tramon Williams.
In between, the Packers’ paper-thin offensive line suffered another blow when T.J. Lang injured his left ankle. Lang, normally the starting left guard, was filling in for Bryan Bulaga, who is out for the season with a hip injury. He was replaced by undrafted rookie Don Barclay. Barclay was flagged for holding on his second possession – a play in which Jared Allen grabbed a deflection for an interception, though that play was nullified by a roughing-the-passer call on Kevin Williams.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.