Vikings top Packers; playoff rematch next
By DAVE CAMPBELL The Associated Press December 30, 2012 11:53PM
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, right, fumbles the ball as he is hit by Minnesota Vikings defensive end Brian Robison during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Genevieve Ross)
MINNEAPOLIS — Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers weren’t satisfied with their NFC North title. They went all out for a better seed, hoping for a one-week break.
Adrian Peterson didn’t let them catch their breath. Minnesota’s relentless runner will be coming right back at them next week.
Peterson finished 9 yards short of breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record, powering the Vikings past the Packers 37-34 on Sunday with 199 yards to set up a rematch next weekend in a first-round playoff game. They’ll play on Saturday night at Lambeau Field.
“The road got a little tougher having to play on opening weekend, but we’ve got a home game and that’s why you win the division,” Rodgers said. “We get to go back home, and the game will be different. They won’t have home-crowd advantage, and hopefully that will make a difference.”
Peterson rumbled off left tackle for a 27-yard gain in the closing seconds, his career-high 34th carry. That set up Blair Walsh’s 29-yard field goal as time expired and put the Vikings (10-6) in the postseason after consecutive last-place finishes.
The Packers (11-5) dropped to the NFC’s No. 3 seed. Their five-game winning streak against the Vikings ended.
“We’re still playing pretty good football. We just need to find a way to play better as a team,” left guard T.J. Lang said. “We have a chance to go against these guys next week on our home field, so, yeah, there’s going to be a little bit of a fire brewing in our heads and our stomachs to try to get back and get a win.”
Rodgers completed 28 of 40 passes for 365 yards and four touchdowns and no interceptions, connecting with Jordy Nelson from 2 yards to tie the game with 2:54 remaining. But Christian Ponder threw for three scores, including one to Peterson, providing the necessary balance.
Ponder went 16 for 28 for 234 yards, including a 65-yard zinger in stride to Jarius Wright midway through the fourth quarter that set up Ponder’s third touchdown toss.
Peterson finished with 2,097 yards, becoming the seventh player in NFL history to reach the 2,000 mark. He had to work for it, pulling out all the cutbacks, stutter-steps and spins he could find in his exceptional skill set. His longest run was 28 yards against a defense geared to slow him down, and the first contact often came at, near or behind the line of scrimmage.
Even though the first-round bye remained in the balance the top seed didn’t do the Packers any good last season. They went 15-1 and lost their opener at home to the eventual champion Giants, the year after winning three straight games on the road to reach and win the Super Bowl.
“We definitely could’ve used the bye, but at this point it’s win or go home now,” said wide receiver Greg Jennings.
Rodgers played without injured leading receiver Randall Cobb, so Jennings was the main guy instead, grabbing eight passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns. But the Vikings sacked Rodgers five times, recovering a fumble at midfield on one of them that set up a touchdown.
Rodgers has 24 touchdowns, only four interceptions and a 70 percent completion rate over 10 career starts against the Vikings. His poise, arm strength and savvy came through clear against them as much as any other team. Plus, cornerback Antoine Winfield’s aggravated hand injury kept him on the sideline for most of the game, a big loss for the Minnesota secondary.
Just as Ponder capably complemented Peterson to give the Vikings a chance, DuJuan Harris came out of nowhere to provide Rodgers some help for the Packers. Green Bay has been proving lately it’s not as one-sided an offense as previously believed. Harris rushed 14 times for 70 yards.
With the catch-and-run game they orchestrate so well, finding the soft spots in coverage, the Packers zoomed 80 yards in six plays to pull within 20-17 early in the third quarter. Jennings had a 45-yard gain and the 5-yard grab for a score. He was wide open on both.
But Peterson churned closer to Dickerson on the next drive. Second-and-27? He surged off right tackle and bounced outside for 28 yards. To cap that march, he caught a 2-yard toss from Ponder to push the lead back to 10 points. The “MVP” chants from the crowd rang out in earnest after that.
“Adrian Peterson was the focal point, and we didn’t do a good enough job,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.
NOTES: With Cobb’s absence, the Packers went without a 1,000-yard receiver for the first time since 2003. Cobb finished with 954 yards. ... Packers DE Jerel Worthy hurt his left knee in the fourth quarter and left on a cart.