GREEN BAY, Wis. -- First thing to know is the bruise on Christian Ponder's throwing arm. It was ugly, and it was enormous. He was wearing one of those Allen Iverson sleeves, white fabric covering most of his arm, but it couldn't cover the bruise. This thing was awful, starting near his elbow and spreading nearly 12 inches up his arm, black and blue and hideous like the bruising you'd see from a poisonous snake bite. This looked ugly. Angry. Real.
"No way he could play," Vikings receiver Jerome Simpson said of Ponder, a late scratch Saturday night against Green Bay because of bursitis -- a painful accumulation of fluid -- in his throwing elbow. "Anybody who thinks he could [play], they don't know. He couldn't throw the ball all week. He could barely lift his arm over his head."
So the injury to Christian Ponder was legit.
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But the havoc it wreaked, the blowout it caused. Was that legit?
Is Green Bay legit?
That's a great question, and I don't have an answer for you. Packers fans, believe what you want. A few weeks from now, maybe you'll be right. Maybe by dominating the Vikings 24-10 on Saturday night, the Packers did show they're an NFC powerhouse, possibly the most dangerous top-three seed in the NFC, what with the No. 1 Falcons scaring nobody and the No. 2 49ers still seeming vulnerable because of that whole Colin Kaepernick thing.
That's one way to look at this Green Bay win over the Vikings. But it's not what I see. I see trouble, and I see trouble because of that whole Colin Kaepernick thing.
See, the Packers visit San Francisco in the next round, and Kaepernick is a big, bruising runner who can make plays with his feet or his arm. He's a lot like the backup quarterback the Packers faced Saturday night -- only much, much better. And Vikings quarterback Joe Webb, inexperienced and mostly woeful as he was, inflicted damage on the Packers. Webb ran for 68 yards on just seven carries, finding plenty of room once he got past the line of scrimmage on a designed run, or outside the pocket on a scramble.
Webb also threw for 180 yards despite missing open receivers all game. He bounced passes, threw them wide, threw them high. Twice he had receivers open deep, and twice he threw the ball two or three steps too far. On one of those throws Simpson cartoonishly dived for a pass that was 15 feet out of reach, then buried his face in the ground in frustration.
Understand what I'm saying: The Packers didn't stop Joe Webb because they played great. The Packers stopped Joe Webb because Joe Webb played poorly. Not that it's his fault, either. He hadn't thrown a pass all season. He wasn't ready for this moment. Playoff game, on the road? Starting? This guy spent one of his four seasons at UAB at receiver, and was drafted by the Vikings in 2010 as a receiver. They changed their mind shortly after that and kept him at quarterback, but Joe Webb is a project -- not a legitimate backup quarterback on an NFL playoff team. Webb's inability to deliver Saturday isn't on him; it's on the Vikings front office.
And the Packers understand: What they accomplished, while important and necessary, wasn't terribly impressive. Linebacker A.J. Hawk was asked a leading question after the game by someone who wanted a feel-good quote. Hawk was asked, after the team held Vikings running back Adrian Peterson to less than 100 yards (he had 99) and the Vikings team to 10 points, if the Packers "feel proud."
It was a softball. And Hawk, to his credit, refused to smash it out of the park. He instead answered honestly.
"Proud? I don't know," he said. "All I know is, we got a playoff win -- and that's important."
Important, if indecipherable. The Packers had 2011 MVP Aaron Rodgers throwing to his full complement of receivers. The Vikings had Joe Webb throwing to a group of wideouts missing leading receiver Percy Harvin. And the Packers outgained the Vikings by two whole yards, 326 to 324.
The Packers tried to establish their running game early and -- after building a 17-3 halftime lead -- were able to keep the ball on the ground to use the clock. And still they managed just 76 rushing yards on 31 carries. Starting tailback DuJuan Harris averaged 2.8 yards on 17 attempts (47 yards). That led to 14 third-down snaps, of which the Packers converted just three (21 percent).
Green Bay surrendered a late touchdown on a defensive breakdown, allowing Vikings receiver Michael Jenkins to get alone 25 yards down field, from where he strolled the final 25 yards for a 50-yard touchdown.
And for good measure, Packers coach Mike McCarthy again showed his lack of confidence in kicker Mason Crosby, going for it on fourth-and-5 from the Vikings' 34 instead of kicking the 52-yarder in the second quarter. The Packers converted the fourth down play and reached the 1 before Crosby was summoned for a 20-yard field goal.
What does it all mean? Look, I don't know. You think I'm saying the Packers can't beat the 49ers next week? I'm not saying that. What I'm saying is, this win proved nothing. Beating this version of the Vikings, with a quarterback who couldn't throw, was a gimme putt.
The Packers made the tap-in, but the next hole is much tougher. They lost to the 49ers earlier this season at Lambeau, but Alex Smith was the quarterback for San Francisco, and he has since been replaced by Kaepernick. So as we look ahead to the rematch next weekend, what does the 49ers' 30-22 victory Sept. 9 at Lambeau mean?
About as much as the Packers' 24-10 victory Saturday night at Lambeau: