The Green Bay Packers defeated the Minnesota Vikings 23-14 at Lambeau Field.
Rhythm and Injury
The Packers offense thrives on its fast-paced rhythm. And on Sunday’s first two drives, the offense was executing beautifully.
Rodgers’ completion rate was 10-of-12 through two possessions, the no huddle was keeping the pressure on the Vikings’ defense, and had Ed Hochuli’s crew not flagged T.J. Lang for a questionable holding call, the Packers would have posted two touchdowns on their first two drives.
Instead, the penalty backed up the Packers, and forced the offense to settle for a 30-yard Mason Crosby field goal that hit the left upright and bounced in.
On the second drive, however, the injury bug struck. Jordy Nelson’s third-down catch on the sideline put the Packers in the red zone but aggravated Nelson’s hamstring forcing him from the game.
The injury marked a turning point in the first half. Without Nelson in the game, the Packers offense hit a slump. It was not until midway through the third quarter that the Packers were able to score again on a Mason Crosby field goal.
For a team decimated by injuries, the offense has struggled all season to find its preferred gear of a no-huddle, quick hitting offense.
Will the Packers find their high-flying form this season? The mounting injuries make it unlikely, but with Aaron Rodgers at the helm, the Packers will almost never be out of a game.
Credit Where Credit Is Due
Without a doubt, Aaron Rodgers is the Packers' most valuable player.
He didn’t have a spectacular day by measure of statistics – 27-of-35 for 286 yards, 1 TD and 1 pick – but he continues to will his team to victory each week.
The Packers quarterback isn’t hitting on nearly as many big plays this season as teams are consistently playing two deep safeties and daring the Packers to run the ball, but he manages to do all of the little things very well.
His leadership commands respect from his teammates as well as his opponents, his snap count and cadence regularly draws opponents offsides creating "free plays" and his ability to extend plays with his legs buys him time for his receivers to get open.
And his ability to throw the ball on the run with pinpoint accuracy? Uncanny. Just ask Christian Ponder how difficult that skill can be.
The Packers have shown they can win without key playmakers on both sides of the ball, but without Aaron Rodgers this team would be dismal.
The Cost of Turnovers
With the Packers trailing 14-10 at the half, the Vikings opened up the second session with more fireworks from Adrian Peterson. On the first play of the half, Peterson blasted through the left side of the line shedding would-be Packers tacklers on his way to a 48-yard run.
Like most of the afternoon, however, Peterson’s spectacular performance was all for naught as Christian Ponder threw his first of two interceptions to Morgan Burnett.
Rolling to his right, Ponder threw the ball directly into the hands of Burnett who was camped out in front of Vikings' receiver Michael Jenkins in the end zone.
Thanks in large part to a Jermichael Finley 3rd-down catch that jumpstarted the Packers offense, Green Bay turned the interception into a 12-play, six-minute drive that culminated in a Mason Crosby field goal and put the Packers within one point.
Ponder’s second interception also came deep in Packers territory. Following a Tramon Williams’ personal foul for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Toby Gerhart, the Packers found themselves backed up against their red zone when Morgan Burnett struck again.
Burnett stepped in front of tight end Kyle Rudolph to snatch his second interception of the game. Burnett’s turnover ended the third quarter and propelled the offense into an 18-play, 11-minute drive that resulted in another Crosby field goal.
As for the Packers, Aaron Rodgers’ interception on a badly underthrown flea-flicker to Greg Jennings was equalized by a stout Packers defense that forced a three-and-out on the Vikings ensuing possession.
Running the Football in December
No matter who lines up in the backfield, the Packers seem to find a way to run the football in the final month of the regular season.
And on the second day of December in 2012, the trend continued. The Packers two-pronged attack of Alex Green and James Starks equalized the Vikings pass rush and bought Aaron Rodgers and the receiving corps some much needed space to operate.
Green and Starks combined for 124 of the team’s 152 rushing yards and Starks, who McCarthy characterized as "a cut above” Green on Sunday, added a 22-yard touchdown, which marked the Packers first rushing score since week 5.
McCarthy’s commitment to the run was evident in his play calling. Green Bay finished with 35 pass attempts compared to 36 rushes. And on the aforementioned 18-play drive, the plays were perfectly balanced – nine runs and nine passes.
Sunday’s rushing performance is exactly what the Packers will need if they hope to secure a playoff berth in the coming weeks.
Already with 10 players on injured reserve, and numerous others sitting out with lingering injuries, the Packers lost two more key players to injury on Sunday.
During the second series of the game, wide receiver Jordy Nelson limped to the sidelines after injuring his hamstring on a third-down conversion. Nelson walked to the locker room under his own power but was ruled out of the game at the start of the second half.
Offensive lineman T.J. Lang also left the game early due to injury. On a failed third-and-one attempt, Lang’s left ankle got twisted up as he was blocking. He was reportedly getting his ankle re-taped after the play but was ruled out of the game shortly thereafter.
In his stead, undrafted rookie Don Barclay stepped in for Lang and put together a performance that didn’t always look pretty but was effective.
The Packers' win puts the team atop the standings in the NFC North with a record of 8-4. Coupled with a Chicago loss, the Packers and Bears share the same record and are set to meet in two weeks in a game that will play a large role in deciding the division champion.
First things first, however, as the Packers face the Lions at home next Sunday. The late start marks the second Sunday night game in three weeks for the Packers.
Max Ginsberg is a regular contributor at CheeseheadTV, blogs at PurplePantsGreenJersey.com and can be reached via Twitter @MaxGinsberg or at maxginsberg[at]yahoo.com.