GREEN BAY — The NFL’s most successful franchise, the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers, eliminated the Minnesota Vikings 24-10 Saturday before 71,548 fans and a national television audience on NBC at historic Lambeau Field. The Packers now advance to play San Francisco next Saturday in the Divisional round.
The incredible 2,097-yard rushing potential MVP season of the great Adrian Peterson, for all intent and purpose, is now a footnote in history.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rogers orchestrated the victory by going 23-33 for 274 yards and one touchdown. He used little running back DuJaun Harris, activated from the team’s development squad weeks ago, to keep the Vikings defense off balance.
The elusive Harris ran 17 times for 47 yards, scored a touchdown, and grabbed five passes for 53 yards. The Packers’ versatility offensively, with 10 receivers catching passes and five different rushers, was enough to keep the Vikings defense guessing.
The Vikings took the momentum of the season-ending 37-34 win over the Packers into Green Bay on the opening drive and, like they did two weeks ago, scored first. They drove to the Packers’ 15-yard line. Quarterback Joe Webb replaced starter Christian Ponder, who did not play because of an elbow injury. The drive stalled, and the Vikings got a 33-yard field goal from Blair Walsh to lead 3-0.
That, folks, for all intent and purpose, was the ball game. The Packers scored the next 24 points to win by the margin of victory. Webb was ineffective most of the game. At times he looked out of synch; he was 11 of 30 for 180 yards, one TD and one interception.
The Vikings made the critical mistakes, like three turnovers, and committed two big mental errors. An offside penalty by Kevin Williams on third down aided the Packers on their first scoring drive, and a killer 12-men-on-the-field penalty on linebacker Jasper Brinkley late in the third quarter on fourth down compounded the hurt.
The Packers were kicking a field goal. That, with the gift penalty, turned into a nine-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers to John Kuhn. It was then 24-3 Packers — lights out, camera over. Peterson was held in check by his standard 22 carries for 99 yards.
The Vikings were placed in a devastating position an hour before kickoff when Ponder did not play. It’s not that Ponder is a superstar by any means, but he played every down all year. And Ponder was coming off a brilliant performance in the season-ending 37-34 win that help clinch the Vikings a playoff spot. The Vikings had balance that day. Saturday, you might say they were out of balance.
The Vikings have the NFL’s worst passing offense, rated 32nd in the league; however, your starting quarterback is, by definition, your leader. He’s your guy. He gives you your best chance to win, good or bad. When he does not play, it’s a huge psychological blow to the team.
Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier has stuck with Ponder through thick and thin in 2012, including some miserable less-than-stellar performances like the two interceptions he threw in the red zone six weeks ago at the Packers.
Several Vikings players refused to comment on the record when asked if they were expecting him to play. They expected in a playoff game to see Ponder try and play. His decision speaks volumes, in my view, about Ponder. Football is not baseball, hockey or basketball — you don’t play a best of seven.
You get one shot, and you either perform and produce on that day or you go home and lick your wounds. Veteran corner back Antione Winfield played with a broken right hand Saturday. All-Pro defensive end Jared Allen gutted it out and will need surgery to repair a torn labrum.
Every player on that field had some bruises and played with some pain. It’s the nature of the game. You think Peterson did not have injuries he played with after carrying this team all year?
The Vikings have had 25 playoff appearances since 1970 with 374 wins and, since 1961, zero championships. So, another successful season, yes, and disappointing, absolutely. Why? Because we will never know.
Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to [email protected], or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.