GREEN BAY, Wis. – This rematch was a mismatch.
And the rest of the NFC might want to take note.
Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers showed how dangerous they can be when they’re at full strength Saturday night, overwhelming the Minnesota Vikings, 24-10, in an NFC wild-card game that was never really close.
“Playoff victories are always ones that are very special,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “Tonight’s win definitely starts and ends with our defense.”
John Kuhn scored two touchdowns, DuJuan Harris added another, and Rodgers connected with an NFL playoff-record 10 receivers as he threw for 274 yards in his first playoff victory at home. Defensively, the Packers (12-5) finally managed to contain Adrian Peterson and were all over Vikings backup Joe Webb, pressed into service because of Christian Ponder’s elbow injury.
Peterson was held to 99 yards – an improvement after gaining 199 and 210 in the first two games. Webb, who hadn’t thrown a pass all season, was sacked three times and off target all night. His only highlight was a 50-yard scoring pass to Michael Jenkins late in the fourth quarter, but it was far too late for the Vikings (10-7).
With a little over a minute left, Packers fans began taunting the Vikings (10-7) with chants of “Nah-nah-nah-nah ... goodbye.” The win snapped a two-game losing streak at Lambeau Field in the playoffs, and sends the Packers to San Francisco next Saturday for an NFC divisional game with the 49ers. The teams met in the season opener, with San Francisco winning, 30-22.
“The main thing was to come out and help this team get a big win,” said Charles Woodson, playing in his first game since breaking his right collarbone Oct. 21. “This is the first playoff game for us this year and we want to continue to ride.”
This was the third game in six weeks between Green Bay and the Vikings, and second in six days. The Packers’ loss in Minnesota last weekend cost them the No. 2 seed in the NFC, along with a bye this weekend, and left them looking – dare we say it? – vulnerable going into the playoffs. But with Charles Woodson back from the broken collarbone that’s sidelined him since Oct. 21 and Rodgers having all four of his top receivers for, essentially, the first time since Sept. 30, Green Bay looked like a team that could make the kind of deep run it did two years ago when it won the Super Bowl.
Rodgers used so many different options other NFL quarterbacks must have been drooling. He went with Harris on Green Bay’s first scoring drive, mixed it up between James Jones, Tom Crabtree and Greg Jennings on the second, and had 22- and 23-yard completions to Jordy Nelson before Kuhn scored on a 3-yard run that put the Packers up 17-3 just before the half. It was more Harris and Kuhn on the final scoring drive.
Harris, who didn’t play in the first game against Minnesota this season because he’d only been elevated from the practice squad a day earlier, led the team in receiving (five catches for 61 yards) and rushing (47 yards on 17 carries). Jennings and Jones had four catches each and Nelson had three before hobbling off late in the fourth quarter.
“We have some stuff to work on,” Rodgers insisted. “We’ve got to help our defense out more, close a team out like that. Tough test next week back in San Francisco. We’ll be excited about that.”
Hey, at least the Packers are still playing. That’s more than the Vikings can say.
Ponder’s right elbow was hurt last weekend when Morgan Burnett slammed into him on a blitz, and there just wasn’t enough time to recover with the short, six-day turnaround. He tested the arm before the game, but the Vikings decided to go with Webb, whose only playing time this year was a couple of handoffs at the end of a blowout of Tennessee in early October.
“Close,” Ponder said of the decision not to play. “We went out pregame and threw a little bit, and just made the decision that it would probably be better off playing Joe with how limited I’d be.”
It was the first time Buffalo’s Frank Reich in 1993 a quarterback had started a playoff game after not starting during the regular season and, in the first series at least, he seemed to have caught the Packers off guard.
That or they were too busy trying to bottle up Peterson, who bulldozed them for 409 yards in their first two games, to pay attention. With what seemed like every Packers defender focused on Peterson, Webb converted a third-and-3 with a 17-yard pickup. His 5-yard run four plays later put the Vikings at the Green Bay 13. But Webb’s first pass of the night went into the ground, and the Vikings were forced to settle for Blair Walsh’s 33-yard field goal that gave them a 3-0 lead.
But the Packers quickly settled down and Webb and the Vikings never stood a chance. Especially with Peterson not allowed to roam free as he’s done against the Packers in the past.
“The energy level was at an all-time high,” Woodson said. “This week, like last week, we buzzed around. But this week we made the tackles, we didn’t allow (Peterson) to get through the line of scrimmage and get yards after first contact. We just kept putting heat on them. That was the difference.”
Like they did last week, the Packers got off to a rocky start offensively, going three and out after Harris dropped what looked like a gimme pass. But unlike last week, they didn’t let it continue, scoring on four of their next five drives.
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