Deep on offense and scary-good on defense, the Green Bay Packers were way too much for the Minnesota Vikings.
Maybe everyone else in the NFC, too.
Aaron Rodgers, Charles Woodson and the Packers reminded everyone of how dangerous they can be when they’re at full strength Saturday night, overwhelming the Vikings 24-10 in an NFC wild-card game that was never really close.
“Our defense played great,” Rodgers said. “Our defense tonight played at a championship level and that’s what you need in the playoffs.”
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 triceps injury.
Peterson was held to 99 yards — an improvement after gaining 199 and 210 in the first two games against Green Bay. It was only the second time in the last 11 games that he was held below 100 yards. 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).
“No disrespect to Ponder, but ... it’s about one guy and that’s Adrian Peterson,” said Woodson, who played his first game since breaking his right collarbone Oct. 21. “Our main focus, whether it was Ponder or Webb, was to keep 28 (Peterson) from getting off. And if we were going to keep him from getting off, put the ball in the quarterback’s hands, whatever quarterback it was, we felt good about what was going to happen.”
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 sent 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.
“A lot has happened since we played San Francisco,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “We’re a different team.”
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 Woodson back 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.
And pretty much everyone got in on the fun on the last score, a 12-play, 80-yard drive that chewed up more than 5 ½ minutes. Rodgers connected with Jones on a 19-yard completion to put the Packers in Packers territory, then connected with Harris for 14 yards two plays later to reach the red zone. Rodgers threw incompletes on second and third downs, but just when the Packers thought they’d have to settle for a field goal, the Vikings were whistled for 12 men on the field, giving Rodgers another crack at the end zone.
He found Kuhn for the 9-yard score, and the game was all but over.
“That was tough. We were down seven and they went and scored and they were coming out of the half, too, getting the ball, too, and they got it and scored again,” Antoine Winfield said. “Can’t do that against the Green Bay Packers.”
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 said. “We’ve got to help our defense out more, close a team out like that. Tough test next week back in San Francisco.”
Hey, at least the Packers are still playing. That’s more than the Vikings can say.
Ponder was hurt last weekend when Morgan Burnett slammed into him on a blitz. Though initially thought to be an elbow injury, Ponder said it was actually a deep bruise in his right triceps. It limited his flexibility along with his power and, though it is better, there simply wasn’t enough time to recover with the short, six-day turnaround.
After testing the arm before the game, 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.
“I can play with pain. The biggest thing is the loss of flexibility,” Ponder said. “I couldn’t get the ball in the position to where I could throw it normally and lost a lot of power and everything. It wouldn’t have been wise to play.”
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, according to STATS Inc. 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.”
Notes: With two sacks of Webb, Matthews joined Reggie White as the only Packers to have two or more sacks in two postseason games. ... Minnesota had 157 of its 324 yards in the fourth quarter, when the game was out of hand. ... Kuhn is the only player in the NFL to score a touchdown in each of the last four postseasons. ... Mason Crosby’s 20-yard field goal in the second quarter was his sixth straight in the postseason, a Packers record. ... Vikings S Harrison Smith left the game briefly with a left knee injury, but was able to return. Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier said after the game he was fine.