3 things we learned about the Packers
There is a purple reign in the NFC North.
The Minnesota Vikings ended the Green Bay Packers’ four-year run as NFC North champions by toppling the Green Bay Packers 20-13 Sunday night at Lambeau Field.
The Vikings (11-5) won a third consecutive game to earn the No. 3 seed in the NFC playoffs, and they will host the sixth-seeded Seattle Seahawks (10-6) next Sunday.
“I’m proud of this football team,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “You know, we started out two years ago trying to build something special. These guys fight, they work hard, they do things right. Like I told them last night, it’s not a surprise that we are where we’re at. They’ve earned this opportunity, and we have to go take it, and I think that we played with a lot of heart tonight.”
Green Bay (10-6) lost its second in a row, fell to the No. 5 seed and will play next weekend at Washington. The Redskins (9-7) won the NFC East.
“We’re a playoff team,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “There’s six NFC teams in the playoffs. We’re the fifth seed. We had an excellent opportunity at home to be the third seed. Didn’t take care of it. There’s not a big difference, trust me, between one and six.”
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers helped Green Bay rally from a 20-3 deficit to pull within 20-13 with 5:35 remaining in regulation. Vikings returner Cordarrelle Patterson broke into the clear on the ensuing kickoff, but kicker Mason Crosby stripped the ball around the Green Bay 30, and Packers safety Micah Hyde recovered at the 23.
A 17-yard catch-and-run by wide receiver Randall Cobb, a 37-yard long ball to wide receiver James Jones and a 13-yard screen to fullback John Kuhn made it first-and-goal at the 10. A completion for no yards, a 3-yard sack by defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and an incompletion made it fourth down from the 13. After the Packers burned their second timeout, Rodgers’ end-zone pass to Jones was intercepted by Xavier Rhodes.
“It was just going over the Packers all week (on film),” Rhodes said. “Aaron Rodgers getting out of the pocket and then guys scrambling, going deep, so I just stayed on my man, turned around and I was just in the right place at the right time.”
What we learned about the Packers:
1. The Packers (10-6) play an NFC wild-card game Sunday afternoon at Washington (9-7). The Packers have dropped two consecutive games after winning three in a row. The Redskins, on the other hand, have won four in a row, with three of those victories coming on the road. The NFC East might be a joke, but the Redskins aren’t a playoff punchline. “We’ve just got to find a way to put it all together,” Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “It’s been frustrating at times to not do that consistently enough in games. Today we had one decent quarter of football. That’s less than the two we’ve kind of been averaging the last six or seven games. We’ve got to figure out the root of that and fix it quickly. We’re 16 games in, so you kind of are who you are, but we’ve got to find a way to put it all together for four quarters.”
2. The Packers led the NFL in scoring last year. That seems like a lifetime ago. Green Bay tried a different tactic Sunday night by employing two-tight-end sets for much of the first half. The result was a 70-yard opening drive to a field goal. The final four drives of the half, however, resulted in no points and just 39 yards. It is clear what direction Rodgers wants the offense to take for the playoffs. “When we start being aggressive, throwing it down the field, good things happen,” he said.
3. The Packers won the Super Bowl in 2010. The following four seasons, the defense ranged from bad to mediocre. This year’s defense has done more than hold up its end of the bargain. The Vikings finished with 242 yards Sunday, converted two of 11 third downs and had two turnovers. NFL rushing champ Adrian Peterson was held to 67 rushing yards and 3.5 yards per attempt, and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was held to 99 passing yards and a 45.7 rating. “On the defensive side, I feel we have a good group,” safety Morgan Burnett said. “We have a tight bond. Guys enjoy coming to work. We enjoy being around each other, and then guys are playing out there for each other, so that’s a fun thing. We’re communicating, guys are trusting one another, and it’s a lot of fun.”
–WR James Jones caught four passes for 102 yards to give him a career-high 890 yards for the season. Jones averaged 17.8 yards per catch this season after averaging merely 9.1 on a team-high 73 grabs for Oakland last year. Nonetheless, it is Green Bay’s lowest team-leading figure since Donald Driver led the way with 621 yards in 2003.
–OLB Julius Peppers, with his second-quarter sack, finished with 10.5 sacks for the season. It was his ninth season of 10-plus sacks, tying Hall of Famer John Randle for the fourth most in NFL history. Hall of Famers Bruce Smith (13) and Reggie White (12), plus Kevin Greene (11), are the only players with more seasons of double-digits sacks.
–TE Richard Rodgers caught seven passes for 59 yards and one touchdown, giving him 58 grabs for 510 yards and eight touchdowns for the season. His catch total ranks second in franchise history by a tight end, trailing Jermichael Finley’s 61 receptions in 2012. Only Paul Coffman, Keith Jackson and Bubba Franks had more touchdowns by a Packers tight end.