Turning point: Epic Packers drive seals it

Despite two immensely costly interceptions from Christian Ponder, the Vikings were still in the game … until an epic Packers drive drained the clock and drained the life out of the Vikings.

For an offense that struggled as badly as the Vikings did Sunday with critical turnovers and getting robbed of stealing momentum on a negated interception by Jared Allen, it was a water-boarding epic drive by the Packers offense against an exhausted Vikings defense that created a tortuous turning point of the game for those looking for an upset of the Green Bay Packers.

After Adrian Peterson broke off a 23-yard run and a pass-interference call put the Vikings on the Packers 25-yard line with four seconds to play in the third quarter trailing 20-14, Christian Ponder threw his second interception to Green Bay safety Morgan Burnett, squandering yet another scoring opportunity. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers took over their own 14-yard line as the game moved to the fourth quarter. The next time Ponder would get his hands on the ball, there would be less the four minutes to play and the Vikings would be nine points behind, 23-14.

The Packers got the chains moving on the ground, as Rodgers scrambled to avoid a sack on first down for 3 yards and James Starks broke off a 9-yard run for a first down.

After a holding call on fullback John Kuhn pushed the Packers back 10 yards, Rodgers completed a pair of short passes of 5 yards to Jermichael Finley and a 7-yard screen to Starks. The Vikings had a third-and-8 situation – a distance that is converted on about one of three opportunities. But Rodgers rolled away from pressure and found Greg Jennings crossing the field for the needed 8 yards and a first down to keep the clock rolling.

The Packers started mercilessly milking the clock at that point. After a pair of runs by Starks set up a third-and-2 from the Green Bay 44-yard line, Rodgers tried to throw for the first down, but when his protection broke down he scrambled 3 yards for another first down near midfield.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

Content to eat more clock, the Packers ran Alex Green twice for 5 more yards and, faced with a third-and-5 from the Vikings 48, Rodgers converted again – rolling to his right and throwing on the run to Finley for 7 yards and another first down.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

With a chance to stop the drive and force the Packers to punt with a six-point lead, Rodgers faced a third-and-13 play – a distance in which conversion rates are about 10 percent. Running away from a pass rush, Rodgers bought time, set his feet and fired a 33-yard pass to Randall Cobb for another first down and the fourth straight third-down conversion all the way down to the Vikings 10-yard line.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

The Packers were content to run the ball and continue working the game clock down. The ball was never thrown and, when the Vikings finally did get a stop on third down, it was because the Packers were willing to allow it. On a third-and-goal from the 16-yard line, Rodgers handed off to Kuhn simply to get the ball in the middle of the field. When Mason Crosby hit the chip-shot field goal from 31 yards away, the Packers had completed an epic 18-play drive that ate exactly 11 minutes off the clock, pushing their lead to two scores and effectively putting the game away.

The Vikings were their own worst enemy Sunday, negating a monster day from Peterson with ineptitude and interceptions in the passing game. But, with the result still in the balance as the game entered the fourth quarter, it was the inability for the Vikings defense to make the one play that was needed to get the ball back to the offense that created a long, grueling turning point.

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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