The Packers were able to keep drives alive with a short passing game and Aaron Rodgers extending plays. In the minds of Vikings defenders, that was a major difference-maker.
On Saturday, the world saw why Aaron Rodgers
is beginning to build a solid case for a Hall of Fame résumé. In Green Bay's 24-10 win over the Vikings Saturday, Rodgers once again proved why he was the highest rated passer this season and currently holds the highest passer rating in NFL history.
The Vikings secondary did a solid job of keeping the lid on the defense and didn't allow Rodgers to air out the deep ball. But it was his ability to slide left or right inside the pocket to buy time for his receivers to adjust their routes and get open that helped him finish with a 104.9 rating.
"I don't recall too many balls hitting the ground when he put it in the air," cornerback Chris Cook
said. "I expected them to throw it a little bit more today, but they came out and ran screens and check-downs. We just had to go out and execute and make plays."
Perhaps most painful was Rodgers' ability to find backs and tight ends on check-down passes. For the game, he completed 23 of 33 passes for 274 yards and one touchdown, with a passer rating of 104.9. But 11 of those completions were to running backs and tight ends, often at a time when his primary receivers were covered and time was running out in the pocket.
"That check-down was vicious," Kevin Williams
said. "We were pushing (the Packers offensive linemen) back to the quarterback and we got beat on the check-down those first few drives. When we adjusted to that, he got some throws down the field. Hats off to them. We had three sacks, but they didn't let us get after him like they did last week. He got the ball out quicker and he used his backs to their advantage and got adequate enough yards to keep the chains moving."
On Green Bay's first scoring drive of the game, Rodgers completed three screens to running back DuJuan Harris
and Ryan Grant
of 12, 16 and 12 yards – each of which picked up first downs and kept the drives moving. Once he established the check-down and screen passing game, bigger plays would open up – in two scoring drives in the late second and early third quarters, he completed four passes of 20 yards or more.
The Vikings didn't have a strong performance on offense to answer that, but, more than the Vikings losing the game, the Rodgers-led Packers offense won it, leaving the Vikings dejected and knowing that they went up against perhaps the game's best quarterback and he won the third round of the Vikings-Packers trilogy.
"He went through his reads and kept going until he found an open receiver, which is a credit to him," safety Harrison Smith
said. "He was taking what we gave him. It wasn't like he marched up and down the field on us all day, it was just those dink-and-dunk plays that popped for nice gains. We just didn't make enough plays today."
WILD CARD PLAYOFF NOTES
It was hoped throughout the week that Christian Ponder would heal from an ugly deep triceps bruise to start Sunday. But after several attempts to get his arm healthy enough to play, the determination was made about two hours before game time to let Joe Webb start. Webb became the first player in NFL history to not throw a pass in the regular season and then start a playoff game.
The stats didn't tell the story of the game. The Packers outgained the Vikings 326-316, but much of the Vikings' yardage came in the fourth quarter as Green Bay was simply trying to run out the clock. Through three quarters, the Packers outgained the Vikings 311-167, but in fourth quarter "garbage time," the Vikings outgained the Packers 157-15.
The Vikings defense did a strong job of third-down defense, one of their biggest weaknesses this season. The Packers converted just three of 14 third-down opportunities.
After allowing 199 yards to Adrian Peterson last Sunday at the Metrodome, the Packers allowed him just 99 yards Saturday.
The Packers averaged just 2.5 yards per rushing attempt Saturday, but had two more attempts (31) than the run-heavy Vikings.
Few quarterbacks spread the ball around like Rodgers. He completed passes to 10 different receivers, with four them gaining more than 50 yards.
After scoring on three straight possessions in the final drives of the second quarter and the first drive of the third quarter, the final six Green Bay possessions ended with punts.
Harrison Smith appeared to suffer a knee injury late in the third quarter, but it turned out to be severe cramps and he would return in the fourth quarter.
The tale of the tape for the quarterbacks was as obvious a stat as any Saturday. While Rodgers was extremely efficient, Webb completed just 11 of 30 passes for 180 yards, but 119 of those yards came in the fourth quarter when the Vikings were hopelessly behind.
Chad Greenway had a productive day, recording 11 tackles (10 solo). Harrison Smith and Erin Henderson each added eight tackles for the Vikings defense.
The Packers started the second half with a familiar refrain – a long drive that ended in the end zone. Green Bay came out with a 12-play, 80-yard drive that took 5:30 to take a 24-3 lead. It appeared as though the drive was going to end with a field goal that would have left the game in a more manageable 20-3 deficit, but the Vikings were called for having 12 men on the field as Jasper Brinkley tried to run off the field late (it was an extra defensive end that was the culprit). On the next play, Rodgers sealed the deal with a 9-yard touchdown pass to fullback John Kuhn.
At halftime, the Packers had 14 first downs to just six by the Vikings, including an 8-2 disparity in the second quarter.
Despite having 17 points in the first half, the Packers were 0-for-4 on third downs, a testament to how efficiently they were able to move the ball down the field and not need to get to third down. The Vikings were 2-of-8 on third down.
The Packers outgained the Vikings 153-24 in the second quarter, with the Packers gaining 153 yards on 20 plays and the Vikings gaining 24 yards on 16 plays.
Rodgers completed 14 of 18 passes for 205 yards in the first half for a passer rating of 114.1. Webb completed just three of 12 passes for 22 yards and a dismal passer rating of 39.6
Peterson ran 12 times for 48 yards in the first half, just five more than Webb, who had four rushes for 43 yards. The Packers had just 42 yards rushing on 15 carries – less than three yards per rushing attempt.
The Vikings had no receiver with more than eight yards in the first half.
The Packers had seven.
With 34 seconds left in the first half, the Vikings had minus-2 yards passing.
Kuhn scored a touchdown with 38 seconds left in the first half that gave the Packers a 17-3 lead. Kuhn became the only player in the NFL to have at least one touchdown in each of the last four postseasons.
The Packers took a chance in the second quarter that paid dividends for them. Faced with a fourth-and-5 from the Vikings 34-yard line, the Packers opted not to allow Mason Crosby to attempt a 51-yard field goal. Instead, the Packers went for it and Greg Jennings burned Chris Cook for a 32-yard gain to the Vikings 2-yard line. But thanks to a pair of run stuffs of Kuhn by Fred Evans, the Packers had to settle for a field goal and a 10-3 lead, but it capped a long drive – 11 plays for 72 yards in drive that elapsed 5:01 off the second-quarter game clock.
The Vikings had 73 yards in the first quarter – 67 rushing and just six passing. Peterson had 34 yards on eight carries and Webb had 33 yards on three runs.
Rodgers completed five of six passes in the first quarter for 61 yards and a passer rating of 109.0.
The Packers' first scoring drive of the game was a grinder – an 11-play, 82-yard drive that took 5:43 off the game clock and resulted in a touchdown when running back DuJuan Harris, who was initially ruled down at the 1-yard line, was reversed when the Packers challenged the call and review showed that Harris crossed the goal line before his knee touched the ground.
The Vikings made it clear what their intention was with the new-look offense. The Packers won the coin toss, but deferred to the Vikings. The Vikings came out running in a big way – calling runs on their first eight plays. Peterson ran six times for 31 yards and Webb kept on an option twice for 22 yards on a 10-play drive that ate 5:34 off the clock to start the game.
If Webb was nervous in making his first start in two years, it didn't show during the pregame warmups, as he appeared extremely loose and devoid of any big-start jitters, taking some time out to kick short field goals during the pregame warmups.
The attendance was 71,548 – the fourth-largest crowd in Lambeau Field history.
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.