Benny Sieu/USA TODAY

Packers Safety Morgan Burnett Still Believes in His Team

Green Bay's offensive ineptitude overshadowed an impressive defensive performance that limited the Vikings to 242 yards.

There is an earnestness in safety Morgan Burnett’s voice. You want to believe him. But that also involves not believing your own eyes.

“I don’t look at it as offense or as defense, I look at it as one team,” Burnett said, refusing to acknowledge the discrepancy in how those units played in Sunday night’s regular-season finale against Minnesota. “There are situations where we need to step up and have those guys’ backs and situations where they have our backs, and special teams pick us both up. You don’t know how a game will flow, each game has its uniqueness about it and you’re going to face a little adversity each game, but the NFL is all about how you respond, and I think we’re going to respond well.”

The response will come on the road at Washington next Sunday, where Green Bay will open the playoffs against a red-hot Redskins team, after losing 20-13 to Minnesota in a game that crowned them NFC North champions. Had they beaten the Vikings, they would’ve faced them again at Lambeau Field next weekend. But considering the Packers were swept at home by all their division opponents for the first time since 1968, the road may not be any worse of a venue.

The Packers' offense converted just 2-of-15 third-down attempts and got into the end zone just once despite a time of possession advantage of 11:24. For the second week in a row, quarterback Aaron Rodgers had a fumble that led to a touchdown – on Sunday it was a 55-yard return by Captain Munnerlyn – and he was sacked five times along with being intercepted in the end zone.

That offensive ineptitude overshadowed an impressive defensive performance by Burnett – who led the squad with eight tackles – and his defensive teammates. They limited the Vikings to just 242 yards – 41 of which came on a fake punt on the game’s opening drive -- held them to just 2-of-11 on third-down attempts, sacked Minnesota signal-caller Teddy Bridgewater three times, held NFL leading rusher Adrian Peterson in check with just 67 yards and a long of 10, and got a one-handed, back-handed interception by Micah Hyde that even he can’t quite figure out.

“I honestly don’t know how the hell I caught that,” Hyde said. “It was just a big play for us and it was good momentum for us.”

At least it should’ve been.

Green Bay was trailing 13-3 in the third quarter when Bridgewater attempted a short pass over the middle to receiver Mike Wallace as Packers outside linebacker Mike Neal started to pull him down. The ball went over the head of inside linebacker Joe Thomas but Hyde came off Wallace when he saw the ball floating, reached back with his right hand and made a one-handed pick, spinning his hand back toward his body and pulling it in as he fell to the ground.

It looked like it might’ve been the play of the game – until three plays later when Rodgers was sacked by defensive end Everson Griffin as he was about to pass and Munnerlyn ran it in to push the score to 20-3.

The Packers had closed the gap to 20-13 with 5:39 in the fourth when Hyde came up with another potentially game-breaking turnover caused by, of all players, kicker Mason Crosby.

Crosby kicked off following his 43-yard field goal, only to see Vikings kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson return it 70 yards on what looked like another Vikings touchdown in the making. But as Patterson tried to make a move around Crosby, the kicker managed to rip the ball out of his grasp, and Hyde quickly covered it up.

“I bailed as far as I could, I was just trying to keep him from getting a clean path and I turned and obviously he didn’t see me and I was able to get my hand on the ball and pop it out of there,” Crosby said. “We drove down and had a chance to tie it there and obviously came up a little bit short.”

Crosby said the challenge over the next week is to focus and find their playoff identity. It seems late in the season to still be trying to figure out who you are as a team, but if there’s a silver lining in the loss, it’s the play of the defense and special teams. And if the Packers' offense can start the game at Washington like it played in the fourth quarter against Minnesota, there may yet be hope for a team that’s been consistently inconsistent on their way to 10 wins and a postseason berth.

 “The most important game is your next one,” Burnett said emphatically. “Every guy in here is a great professional, a great athlete and they’re going to do everything they need to do to be prepared and ready.

“If you don’t believe you can turn it around, then you’re in the wrong business because this business requires you to have confidence and I have confidence in our team. It should be a fun ride.”

It’s been a rollercoaster ride to this point.

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