Since taking over as head coach of the Minnesota Vikings in 2006, Brad Childress has asserted that incomplete passes down the field do no good to stretch a defense. As Childress terms them, "long foul balls" don't really keep defenders from stacking up against the run.
So as the Vikings went into their game Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, their fastest receiver, Troy Williamson, wasn't given a chance. He didn't have a catch all game. That's because he wasn't even the target of a pass despite rookie receiver Sidney Rice being inactive because of a hamstring injury. It might not be that the Vikings were keeping it away from Williamson after initially docking his pay for missing the previous game while tending to funeral arrangements for his grandmother, but they were keeping it away from their wide receivers in general.
Williamson didn't start the game and only touched the ball while handling three kickoff returns. Instead, former Packer Robert Ferguson started the game, along with Bobby Wade. Just last week, Ferguson was hoping the Vikings' wide receivers would soon break out for a 100-yard performance.
By halftime of the Packers' 34-0 blowout, Ferguson was probably just hoping the wide receivers would get an opportunity to catch the ball. Through more than 42 minutes of play, only running back Adrian Peterson and fullback Tony Richardson had receptions and the Vikings had only 7 yards passing under Brooks Bollinger, who was the third Vikings quarterback to start this season.
Worse yet, the Vikings were 0-for-8 on third-down conversions and 0-for-3 on fourth-down tries. Some of that had to do with not getting downfield enough in the passing game. It wasn't until 2 minutes and 12 seconds remained in the third quarter that a wide receiver caught a pass, a 35-yard reception by Ferguson.
But that was hardly a start of momentum. Their desperation fourth-down attempts were inept. Later in that drive, when the Vikings were already trailing 27-0, they went for it on fourth-and-10 and a pass to Ferguson went for minus-1 yard. One drive later, a fourth-and-3 pass to Ferguson went for a 2-yard gain. Amazingly, on the next drive, on fourth-and-7, Ferguson caught a 3-yard pass.
Three fourth downs – all passes to Ferguson – all came up short of the first-down markers.
Ferguson wasn't the only ex-Packer having a hard time. Kicker Ryan Longwell's only play of the game was to kickoff to start the second half. Besides that, the Vikings didn't score and he never had an opportunity at a field goal.
The last ex-Packer to experience turmoil in a return to Lambeau was safety Darren Sharper. Despite four of the top six tacklers for the Vikings being defensive backs, Sharper had only two tackles after Packers backup quarterback Aaron Rodgers called out Sharper during the week, saying he doesn't like to tackle. The greater injustice for Sharper, however, was that he knocked a would-be Cedric Griffin interception out of his grasp, sent the ball into the air and into the waiting arms of wide receiver Ruvell Martin in the end zone.
"I'd rather be lucky than good," Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre said of that final touchdown. "I've told everyone who would listen I've had my share that were meant to be caught. That's not one of them. But today it was going our way and that was an indication of that. That was not a really good decision and it was definitely not a good throw, but I will take it. It counts the same."
A person named Grant isn't supposed to be hurting the Vikings, but this wasn't any relation to legendary Vikings coach Bud Grant that was doing the damage against the Minnesota defense on Sunday at Lambeau Field. It was Packers running back Ryan Grant.
The Packers came in with a plan and executed it while becoming the first team this season to have a running back gain more than 100 yards rushing against the Vikings. They did it by largely avoiding Minnesota's defensive tackles, Pat Williams and Kevin Williams.
"Their defensive tackles are, as a tandem, one of the best in the league at run defense. The core of our running game is a stretch, cut mentality. That's the starting point," said Packers coach Mike McCarthy. "We also felt some of our pattern schemes we could get on the edge. Those are some things in game-planning that you think you can take advantage of. When you break their run defense down, it starts with their tackles."
Grant's 119-yard rushing performance was the second 100-yard game of his career, and his 30-yard touchdown to start the scoring was the longest of his career.
"I'm not used to seeing the ball run on our defense that way," Vikings coach Brad Childress said. "Generally what happens when someone is running the football is they are exerting their will on somebody and somebody is not exerting it back."
The running success was set up by the Packers' ability to effectively pass the ball with a veteran quarterback like Favre. Despite overthrowing a few receivers to start the game, Favre still passed for 351 yards and helped contribute to the Packers' recent dominance over the Vikings – McCarthy's Packers are 4-0 against Childress' team.
McCarthy said he thought the Packers' five-receiver combinations caught the Vikings off-guard, as they called a timeout at one point early in the game when the Packers revealed it. However, it shouldn't have come as a surprise, as the Vikings were playing without their top cornerback, Antoine Winfield, and the Packers are known as a pass-first team.
"I loved it," said wide receiver Ruvell Martin, who had two touchdown receptions despite not being a starter. "I loved it. That's like a college type formation. To get into that, we're just out there having a blast. All five of us out there, running around, catching balls, having a great time."
The Vikings made a concerted effort to get their offensive superstar involved early. While Adrian Peterson had three double-digit gains in the first half, he was also held to little or no gain on a number of key downs.
"I think we did pretty good. I feel like we were aggressive," said Packers defensive tackle Ryan Pickett. "They had kind of a different attack than what we were expecting. They (were) blocking differently than we thought they would. But we knew they were going to come out and establish the run. And we felt like if we could stop the run, we could win the game."
The Packers knew that Peterson would be a focus and they were tired of watching his explosive gains during their week of preparation.
"We'd be watching him and be like, ‘Man, just turn it off. We don't need to see no more of his highlights. Let us go into the game feeling good.' We were tired of seeing it," Pickett said. "You know, he makes people miss and he's a dangerous back. He's real good."
K-ROB FEELING GOOD
Former Vikings receiver Koren Robinson, a member of the Packers since the Vikings released him following another arrest involving alcohol in August 2006, had several big plays for Green Bay. It was only Robinson's second game back after serving a league-imposed one-year suspension for his violation of the league's substance abuse policy.
Contributing with five catches for 45 yards on a winning team has Robinson feeling good.
"I loved it, man. It feels good. Just to rally the team, everything just feels good," he said. "I haven't been around anything like this. So it feels good for me. And I just felt like … just live life, it's good, it's good."
CHILDRESS TAKES RESPONSIBILITY
For anyone who thought the Vikings' performance was flat on Sunday (get in line), Childress said he accepts responsibility.
"I can't say flat, but if my team wasn't ready and I didn't have them ready, then I am going to take responsibility for that. It's my fault," he said.
The dismal performance on both sides of the ball followed what may have been the team's best performance in the 24 games since Childress took over as head coach.
"We lost, so we obviously took a step backwards. There is no question, but you just have to keep playing ball," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "We probably played our best game last week and our worst one this week. We just have to keep working."
Notebook: Bad Day for WRs, Ex-Packers
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