The Packers rolled up and down wet Lambeau Field in a 42-10 thrashing that wasn’t even that close Thursday night.
With a band of backups, Christian Ponder led the way … into the blood bath. Ponder entered the season as the third-string quarterback but was forced onto the field after a season-ending broken foot for Matt Cassel in Week 3 and an ankle sprain on Sunday for Teddy Bridgewater.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said Ponder didn’t look comfortable in the pocket and the 2011 first-round draft pick had the stats to back that assessment. Ponder completed 22 of 44 passes for 222 yards, threw two interceptions, no touchdowns and was sacked six times.
“It was embarrassing. It’s not the way I expected to play,” Ponder said. “Hats off to Green Bay. They played a great game, but that’s not indicative of the way we should have played. I feel bad that I put the team in this position. I’ll point the finger at me. It hurts and it doesn’t feel good.”
Ponder finished with a passer rating of 45.8, but even that paltry sum was raised up with meaningless yards in the fourth quarter after the Vikings fell behind 42-0 and after Ponder’s rating bottomed out at 8.6 at one point and 13.4 for the first half.
He wasn’t helped by an offensive that struggled to protect or open the gaping holes they did Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons. Or a defense that gave up two touchdowns in the Packers’ first three series while allowing consecutive runs of 18 and 29 yards by Eddie Lacy and touchdown passes of 8 yards to Randall Cobb and 66 yards to Jordy Nelson.
There were plenty of mistakes to go around with a pair of backup running backs filling in for Adrian Peterson while he deals with his legal troubles and could be gone for the remainder of the season; a backup guard filling in for Brandon Fusco, who was lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle; backup tight ends filling in for Kyle Rudolph, who is likely out for at least six weeks after sports hernia surgery; and a defense without veteran linebacker Chad Greenway, who was out for the second straight week with broken bones in his ribs and hand.
But, mostly, this was a bad performance for Ponder, who rightly called his performance “embarrassing.”
Luckily for those vested in the Vikings, Bridgewater is expected to return for the Vikings’ Oct. 12 game against the Detroit Lions, but Zimmer said the rookie “wasn’t ready” yet Thursday night because of the sprained ankle, and the coach made the decision to make Bridgewater inactive and start Ponder.
Ponder misfired on numerous passes and receivers dropped several passes that they got their hands on. But Ponder was sacked six times by a defense that came into the game with sacks combined in the previous four games.
But there were plenty of other errors to go around. The Packers entered the game looking vulnerable against the run, having given up an average of 176 yards rushing in their previous games. But in the first half, the Vikings’ long run was an 11-yarder by Matt Asiata, who fumbled it away at the end of that play. That was one of three first-half turnovers by the Vikings that included a Julius Peppers 49-yard interception return for a touchdown.
On offense, the Packers had struggled to run the ball in first quarter of the season. They had averaged only 73 yards rushing in the previous four games, ranking 28th in the league, and 3.5 yards per carry. That same attack sliced through the Vikings’ veins for 156 yards with a 5.6-yard average. That included a 105-yard performance from Lacy, whose previous best in four games was 48 yards.
The Packers led 14-0 after the first quarter. Peppers’ interception return made it 21-0, and Ponder’s next pass was picked off by Jamari Lattimore to set up a fourth touchdown for a 28-0 halftime lead. Two more touchdowns by Lacy in the third quarter – an 11-yard run and 9-yard reception – made it 42-0 before Rodgers was pulled.
Ponder was a problem, for sure, but the Vikings had intents to run the ball against Green Bay’s last-ranked rush defense and couldn’t get much established early. Minnesota believed it could stop the Packers’ 28th-ranked run game and failed to do that, too. And the Vikings were only 5-for-15 against the last-ranked third-down defense in the league.
And in between those failings and the turnovers, there was Aaron Rodgers picking them apart in an efficient effort – 12 of 17 for 156 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
“I don’t know how that happens,” defensive end Brian Robison said about losing so badly to their divisional rivals. “You can say we made mistakes. You can say we weren’t good enough on third downs. You can say we didn’t get turnovers. You can say we didn’t stop the run. You can say we didn’t win the field position battle. You can go through a checklist of stuff that happened. The bottom line is that we got our tails whooped tonight.”
The Vikings entered their first NFC North game of the season hoping to leave with a winning record. Instead, they left “embarrassed,” with “feelings hurt” and a 2-3 record and another NFC North matchup with the Lions on deck.
Ponder likely won’t be part of that, but many of the other backups will have to suffice if the Vikings are to survive.
“If we don’t learn how to stop the run,” Zimmer said, “if we don’t learn to quit doing dumb things like jumping offsides on third down, having penalties, learn how to pass protect, it doesn’t matter who you play or when you play.”
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