Defense Must Bounce Back Mentally, Physically

Never mind Adrian Peterson -- if it's possible to ignore the running back's 199-yard performance. The Packers, who entered the game ranked seventh in scoring, had no answers on third down, no answers for Christian Ponder, no answers in clutch situations and no answers for their own miscues.

MINNEAPOLIS – The Green Bay Packers must turn the page – quickly – if they're going to emerge victorious from a winner-takes-all rematch against the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday night.

The healing had started in the locker room following an emotional 37-34 loss at the Metrodome. Yes, there were long faces. Words were uttered in hushed tones. A first-round playoff bye and the momentum a four-game winning streak were gone.

Still, Tramon Williams and Clay Matthews were among the players who managed a few laughs with teammates. Hey, everyone's entitled to a laugh after a bad day at the office, right?

"The playoffs are here upon us," coach Mike McCarthy said. "That's basically the message to the football team. … We'll play anybody in the playoffs. I think it'll be a great contest. It's an opponent we're very familiar with. They're familiar with us. Everybody has confidence going into the playoffs. Most importantly, we'll be at home. So we're excited to play these guys."

The Packers didn't play to their identity on the defensive side of the ball. Green Bay entered the game ranked seventh in scoring defense. It had allowed 54 points during its winning streak, including 14 when these teams met at Lambeau Field four weeks earlier.

On Sunday, the Vikings could do no wrong on offense. Their 10 possessions ended with seven scores. They gained 444 yards, piled up 25 first downs and moved the chains on ¬6-of-12 third-down plays. The Packers were defenseless against Adrian Peterson for the second time this season. He rushed 34 times for 199 yards and accounted for two touchdowns.

The Packers, on the other hand, could do no right on defense. Positioned to hold the Vikings to a long field-goal attempt at the end of the first half, they failed to get home on a third-and-4 blitz and allowed a 10-yard completion, which Peterson followed with an 18-yard run to the 8 to set up a touchdown. On second-and-27 in the third quarter, Peterson rumbled for 28 to set up his own 2-yard touchdown catch. On third-and-goal from the 12 in the fourth quarter, Williams' frustration with receiver Michael Jenkins' physical play boiled over, with a hands-to-the-face penalty setting up a third-down touchdown to Jenkins. And, on the final drive, the Packers blew coverage on a 25-yard completion to Jenkins on third-and-11 and let Peterson run for 26, which set up Blair Walsh's 29-yard field goal rather than a 55-yarder.

"Mentally, once we come in tomorrow and watch this – it will be tough watching it because we didn't play like we wanted – but after we get done watching it, it's over," linebacker A.J. Hawk said. "This is a true test of being a pro. To sit here and feel bad for yourself and get mad and point fingers at each other, then you don't deserve to be in the playoffs, anyway. We feel we're going to be fine. We're excited that we have an opportunity to go to Lambeau. I'm sure the fans aren't real happy with how we finished this but we have a home game in the playoffs and we're going to look forward to it."

Peterson's dominance notwithstanding, the big problem was the Vikings' passing game. Quarterback Christian Ponder, who threw two costly interceptions in Round 1, was practically flawless in going 16¬-of-28 for 234 yards and one touchdown. He wasn't the caretaker quarterback leaning on Peterson to carry the load. Rather, he was a difference-making quarterback. Ponder converted six third downs through the air, including the aforementioned 3-yard touchdown to Jenkins to make it 34-27 and the 25-yarder to Jenkins on the winning drive. With the season on the line, three times Ponder answered a Packers score with a Vikings score, including a tie-breaking touchdown and the winning field goal.

"They did a good job of getting into the spots where they needed to get," Williams said. "We just didn't do a good job of getting off the field in those situations, and those are the situations we've been asking for. In the first game, they got into a lot of third-and-shorts and obviously you're not too good on third-and-short. We want to get them in these third-and-longs and we still didn't get it done today. We've definitely got to clean that up."

There's not much time. Due to the physical nature of this game and the condensed schedule to Saturday night, McCarthy will have to limit the on-the-field work. The Vikings no doubt will be extremely confident, not just because of this outcome but because they might have won the first game if not for Ponder's two bad interceptions. Ponder, by all appearances, is a different quarterback with the Vikings taking a four-game winning streak to Lambeau Field.

Still, the Packers are ready, with history on their side and a battled-tested spirit from surviving injuries and gut-wrenching outcomes at Seattle and Indianapolis.

"We're cranked up. We're ready to go," Williams said. "Obviously, everyone's disappointed with the loss. I'll bet if you ask the 53 guys if they're ready to go right now, they'll say they're ready to go. I have no doubt that we'll be ready."

"We'll be ready to go next week," defensive lineman Ryan Pickett said. "This is a good team we have here. We're battle-tested and we're going to come back next week and go for the win."


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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 packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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