Vikings 37, Packers 34: Game Balls and Lame Calls
The Mayans may have been wrong on the world as a whole, but the Green Bay Packers finally lost an NFC North game.
After winning twelve straight games against the NFC North, the Packers lost 37-34 to the Minnesota Vikings in an instant classic to wrap up the 2012 regular season. Thanks to the victory by the San Francisco 49ers over the Arizona Cardinals, the Packers now have to take the long road to the Super Bowl.
The defense couldn’t stop the Vikings and Christian Ponder had a better than expected game. Oh and that Vikings running back had a good game as well. At least he didn’t get the record, though (Eric Dickerson, you are welcome).
The Packers open the playoffs this Saturday once again facing the Minnesota Vikings, this time at Lambeau Field.
NT BJ Raji
While the defense as a whole couldn’t shut down the Vikings, but Raji perhaps had his best game of 2012.
Raji had only four tackles but he disrupted the offensive line all game and gave the defense opportunities to shut Adrian Peterson down. Unfortunately for the Packers, no one really was able to do it.
He’s play rejuvenated football since returning to his natural nose tackle position after spending last season at defensive end and has helped an anemic Packers pass rush return to life. Raji will need to play just as well next week if the Packers want to advance in the playoffs.
QB Aaron Rodgers
Twenty eight-for-40 for 365 yards and four touchdown passes. Just another day at the office for the NFL MVP.
Rodgers’ arm and accuracy kept the Packers in the game during a shootout in which the defense couldn’t stop anything the Vikings threw at them. It was another slow start for Rodgers and company, but the passing game roared to life in the second half. Rodgers apparently has reestablished chemistry with Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings, and if Randall Cobb is back this week, the Packers offense will be a force to be reckoned with in the playoffs.
If the offensive line could get its act together, Rodgers is all set for another stellar postseason performance. The only question remaining is whether the offensive line will keep him upright.
WR Greg Jennings
When Cobb is away, Jennings will play.
It was tempting not to put Jennings here thanks to a dropped touchdown pass that could have altered the end result of the game, he still had his best game in a long time. Jennings finished the day with eight catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns.
The chemistry that made Jennings and Rodgers the most lethal QB/WR tandem in the league has been reestablished and once Cobb returns, the passing game will be the most dangerous it’s been all season.
Rodgers will continue to look Jennings’ way, especially in the playoffs.
K Mason Crosby
This game didn’t come down to a Crosby field goal try, but if it had there actually were some signs that he would make it.
Crosby converted both his field goals Sunday, from 51 and 40 yards respectively, and neither one needed the uprights to make it in. Even though it was in a controlled environment, both attempts came at crucial points in the game. The first was right before halftime, and the second was to tie the game at 27-27.
Thankfully, Crosby didn’t flinch. His confidence may not be fully back yet, but he can rest knowing that he didn’t cost the team the game. In fact, one could argue he kept them in it.
Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers
The game was tied 34-34 and the Packers had the Vikings in a 3rd-and-11 situation.
What does Capers dial up? Why, a three-man rush of course! Not only that but a prevent defense to boot!
Unfortunately, this has become far too common for the Packers under Capers’ watch and it’s gotten to the point of ridiculousness. The soft zone that Capers tends to call on 3rd-and-long plays needs to be tossed out. It hurt the Packers repeatedly in 2011 and this year has allowed opposing teams to stay in games they had no business being in.
The players also deserve blame for not making plays when they had to. Capers is responsible for implementing the game plan, and that call on third down was atrocious.
CB Tramon Williams
Williams has played much better football this year compared to his injury-riddled 2011 campaign, but Sunday was not his finest performance.
Not only did he (and the rest of the defense) struggle to bring down Peterson and stop the big play by Christian Ponder, but he committed an illegal hands to the face penalty that turned a potential field goal into a touchdown for the Vikings.
Williams’ tackling woes are reoccurring at the worst possible time. Casey Hayward has played lights out as a rookie, but he won’t be able to carry the secondary through the playoffs.
The Packers need Williams to shake this game off and fast.
Head Coach Mike McCarthy
McCarthy is known for his emotional consistency and never letting the heat of the moment get to him during a game.
Well, that veneer cracked a bit against the Vikings when McCarthy angrily threw a challenge flag onto the field for a play that was already being reviewed. That is a 15-yard penalty in the NFL rule book.
Thankfully for McCarthy, the flag was on the field before the replay official was buzzed. A similar situation happened with Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz on Thanksgiving, but his flag was thrown after the replay official had already been alerted of the replay.
McCarthy can’t afford any of those kind of snafus in the playoffs. There is far too much on the line.
The offensive line
Rodgers was sacked 51 times in 16 games this season. That bests the career high of 50 he suffered in 2009.
Given Rodgers’ unique ability to extend plays, a majority of these fall at the feet of the offensive line. Yes, Rodgers at times has a tendency to hang onto the football for too long. There also have been injuries along the line, with Bryan Bulaga out for the year and other lineman having been banged up at some point in the season.
Still, they need to protect the quarterback.
The Packers didn’t do that against the Vikings, as Minnesota sacked Rodgers five times and forced him into a critical fumble. That can’t happen again on Saturday if the Packers want to advance in the playoffs.
The Vikings have a decent defensive line, but the Packers cannot continue to take Rodgers’ athleticism for granted.
Listen to the companion podcast, where the ALLGBP team expand on the game balls, give you the Packers Stock Report and look ahead to the Playoffs matchup with the Vikes:
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Kris Burke is a freelance sports writer currently residing in Wisconsin. His work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke