It's rare when two teams play three times during a season. By definition, it entails two teams from the same division both making the playoffs and meeting for Round 3 in the postseason. In the 52-year history of the Vikings-Packers rivalry, the teams have only met once in the postseason – a 31-17 win by the Vikings at Lambeau Field in January 2004.
Typically when teams prepare for each other in the playoffs, they resort to watching hours of game film. In this case, the Vikings and Packers have a wealth of tape available from their own two meetings, including Sunday's game. However, the Vikings aren't expecting to see the exact same Packers team Sunday.
"It may be easier to prepare for them because we're playing them twice in a row, but neither team is going to come back with the same game plan the second time around," offensive tackle Phil Loadholt said. "You look at what you did right and what you did wrong and prepare that way."
It would appear the teams already have the blueprint of how to defeat the other in the game film archives. In the two games Minnesota and Green Bay have played this season, the team that scored first, scored second as well, changing the way the rest of the game would be played.
In the first meeting, Green Bay got the ball first and drove 70 yards for a touchdown. On the Vikings' first possession, they went three-and-out. By the time they got the ball for the second time, they were trailing 10-0 and many of the plans they had to try to run a ball-control offense were being minimized. Last Sunday, Green Bay won the toss but opted to defer to the Vikings. By the time Aaron Rodgers got his hands on the ball for the first time, he was trailing 3-0 and the Packers had a three-and-out opening drive. By the time he got the ball for a second time, Green Bay was trailing 10-0.
In both instances, the team that trailed 10-0 after the first quarter made a comeback. The Vikings took a 14-13 lead into halftime of their game at Lambeau Field and the Packers rallied from a 13-0 deficit early to tie the game – at 27-27 and 34-34. Yet, it was the team that was able to control the ball that won those games.
In the first meeting at Lambeau, it would appear at first glance that the Vikings dominated on the ground. Adrian Peterson rolled up 210 yards on 21 carries and the team ran 28 times for 240 yards (an impressive 8.6-yard average). However, two of A.P.'s runs accounted for 130 of those yards – an 82-yard touchdown in the second quarter and a 48-yard run on his first carry of the second half. On the other 19 carries, he ran for 80 yards, an average of about four yards per carry. Meanwhile, the Packers ran the ball 36 times for 152 yards. It was a solid 4.2-yard average, but, more importantly, it allowed the Packers to eat the clock and dictate the tempo of the game – controlling the ball for a whopping 38:30 of the 60 minutes.
In that first meeting, the Vikings had just one drive of more than five plays and, of their first eight drives of the game, seven of them lasted just three plays. On the other side of the ball, Green Bay had five drives of eight plays or more, including time-consuming drives of 12, 12 and 18 plays – which accounted for 13 of their 23 points.
When the rematch took place last Sunday, the roles were almost completely reversed. After running the ball 36 times in their first meeting, Green Bay rushed the ball just 16 times in the meeting at the Metrodome. Meanwhile, the Vikings ran the ball 37 times. While Peterson didn't have any of the long-distance runs as he did in the first meeting, he had seven carries of 12 yards or more and helped the Vikings move the ball up and down the field more consistently. His 34 carries were a career high and wore down the Packers defense as the game went along.
After struggling to maintain and sustain drives in the first game, the Vikings relied more on their ground game and the results were obvious. After struggling with numerous three-and-out drives in the first game, of their 10 drives in Sunday's meeting, only two of them were three-and-outs and seven of them lasted seven plays or more. Of Green Bay's 10 drives, half of them lasted five plays or less and six of them lasted less than three minutes.
As the teams prepare for the final chapter of the 2012 season trilogy, it seems fairly obvious what the plan of attack will be for both teams – get ahead early and be able to mix in the run and the pass effectively. The Packers got off to a 10-0 first-quarter lead in the first game and were able to run the ball 30 times in the final three quarters. On Sunday, the Vikings got off to a 10-0 lead after the first quarter and Green Bay was able to run the ball just 14 times in the final three quarters.
All the advantage sits with Green Bay in the third matchup. They're at home playing an outdoor game in January, which is typically the bane of dome teams. But the Vikings know that, if they can get the ground game established early and keep it going, the Packers will have a hard time keeping up. Peterson has run 55 times for 409 yards in their two meetings and 30 carries will likely be what the Vikings need out of him Sunday in order to come away with a road win at Lambeau Field.
The game will be 60 minutes long, but, how the game plays out may well be determined in the first 15 minutes. Both Round 1 and Round 2 of the Border Battle have gone that way and there's no reason to believe Round 3 won't follow a similar script.
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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