3 things we learned about the Vikings
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 Vikings:
1. The Vikings (11-5) will host the Seahawks (10-6) in an NFC wild-card game Sunday. The Seahawks clobbered the Vikings 38-7 in Minneapolis on Dec. 6. However, the Vikings will enter the playoffs having won three in a row while allowing only 47 points in those games. “That’s a team that’s going right now and they’re rolling,” Minnesota quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said of the Seahawks, “but the thing with Seattle, I think we got our season going after that loss, also. We know it’s going to be a good challenge for us. We get to return back home and play in front of our home crowd — fans that have been in support of us all year long. I can’t wait to get back there.”
2. The Vikings are more than running back Adrian Peterson and a stingy defense. They also possess big-play special teams. Cordarrelle Patterson, who had two touchdowns on kickoff returns entering the game, had a 70-yard return — though he fumbled on the play. A perfectly executed fake punt resulted in a 41-yard run by receiver Adam Thielen. In addition, strong-legged kicker Blair Walsh is on a roll, with two more makes Sunday giving him a league-high 34 field goals. “We didn’t come here to finish second,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “Let loose, take our swings, and if we get knocked out, we get knocked out.”
3. With Zimmer, it is clear the Vikings won’t be outcoached. Zimmer, who has one of the league’s best defensive minds, outwitted Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in both matchups this season. It took Zimmer just two years to take a team that finished 5-10-1 in 2013 to 7-9 last year to 11-5 and atop the division this year. As long as Bridgewater continues to grow, the Vikings should be playing for division titles for at least the next few years. “Coach Zimmer is very excited, but at the same time, he is not satisfied,” Bridgewater said. “And that’s what we love about Coach Zimmer. He said this is only the beginning and we have a long road ahead of us.”
–CB Captain Munnerlyn made the key play of the game in the third quarter. Moments after QB Teddy Bridgewater’s left-handed pass was intercepted, DE Everson Griffen stripped the ball from Packers QB Aaron Rodgers. Munnerlyn picked up the ball and ran 55 yards for a touchdown and a 20-3 lead. “I never heard a whistle,” Munnerlyn said. “I just went and scooped up the ball. Guys did a great job of blocking the quarterback downfield. I slowed down and got into the end zone.”
–DE Everson Griffen took advantage of a mismatch to record two sacks, three tackles for losses and four quarterback hits. Griffen finished the season with 10.5 sacks, and he has nine sacks in 13 career games against the Packers.
–RB Adrian Peterson, who missed most of the 2014 season, won the NFL rushing title with 1,485 yards. Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin was a distant second with 1,402 rushing yards. It was the third rushing title of Peterson’s career, and he became the second-oldest rushing champion in NFL history. Peterson is 30; Curtis Martin was 31 when he won the rushing title with the Jets in 2004. Peterson’s 11,675 career rushing yards are the sixth most for a player in his first nine NFL seasons. He passed Curtis Martin, who had 11,669.