In the NFL, good teams can turn a tight game into a blowout in a hurry. In Saturday's 24-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers, the Vikings held Green Bay in check for much of the first half, but it was three straight drives that provided the margin of difference in a season-ending turning point.
"We knew coming in that their offense can be patient and will take what they're given," defensive end Brian Robison said. "They were able to sustain a couple of drives late in the first half and early in the second half that did us in. It wasn't like we got burned by big plays, (Aaron) Rodgers just took advantage of the little things he was presented with."
Midway through the second quarter, the Vikings trailed 7-3 and were doing a solid job of not giving Rodgers much in the way of opportunities. But with 8:26 to play in the first half, Rodgers found his groove and the Packers showed they could make the quick-strike plays that not only moved the chains, but changed the scoreboard.
The Vikings were getting a good push in Rodgers' face, but he found ways to escape, tossing a 10-yard screen to tight end Tom Crabtree that picked up a first down and, on the next play, hitting James Jones on a short slant pass that picked up 20 yards and got the Packers into Vikings territory. In something of no-man's land at the Vikings 34-yard line facing a fourth down, Rodgers threw a short sideline pass to Greg Jennings, who slipped out of a tackle by Chris Cook and raced down the sidelines to the 2-yard line. The Vikings would have a nice goal-line stand that kept Green Bay out of the end zone, but a 20-yard Mason Crosby field goal increased Green Bay's lead to 10-3 with 3:25 to play in the half.
When the struggling Vikings offense went three-and-out, Rodgers caught fire. Starting at his own 38-yard line, it took Rodgers just three plays to get Green Bay on the doorstep of the end zone once again. He completed consecutive passes of 22 yards to Jordy Nelson, 14 yards to Jennings and 23 yards to Nelson to get the ball to the 3-yard line in less than one minute and, when fullback John Kuhn took a draw up the middle for a 3-yard touchdown, the Packers' lead had ballooned to 17-3 and they had the Vikings staggering and on the ropes.
The knockout punch was delivered on the opening drive of the third quarter. With a chance to get off the field early in the opening drive, a first-down sack by Everson Griffin put the Packers in a second-and-14 situation. It looked as though the Vikings might get a second sack, but Rodgers escaped a Jared Allen pass rush and scrambled for 10 yards to give himself a much more manageable third down, which he converted on a 19-yard catch and run to James Jones. A pair of check-down passes to running back DuJuan Harris picked up 18 yards and, when the Vikings finally did stop the Packers to set up a field goal, they had 12 men on the field and the penalty gave Green Bay another first down. Rodgers cashed in on the very next play, flipping a short pass to fullback John Kuhn for a 9-yard touchdown.
"It was frustrating because we took away a lot of the things that he wanted to do, but he was able to extend plays and keep them alive," safety Harrison Smith said. "He had to go to his second or third option a lot, but he found ways to get the ball in there and keep drives going. Those will kill you."
In the span of three drives in 14 minutes, the Packers turned a 7-3 lead into a 24-3 lead that would never seriously be threatened the rest of the way, as the Packers blew open the game without a response from the Vikings and turned a tightly-contested game into a lopsided lead.
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.
Turning point: Close to lopsided in 3 drives
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