|QB Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense was strong against the Vikings, but the defense let them down. (US Presswire)|
A game that was flexed by the league because of its significance for both teams lived up to the hype. The Packers lost a thriller, falling 37-34 in Minnesota to the Vikings (10-6) on Sunday and missing a chance for a first-round bye.
The Vikings had to win to get into the playoffs, and their reward for a stirring effort is a trip to Green Bay for a rematch next Saturday night at Lambeau Field in the wild-card round.
The Packers (11-5) kept RB Adrian Peterson from breaking the all-time NFL single-season rushing record against them -- but just barely. He finished with 199 yards on 34 carries. And the defense coulnd't stop Christian Ponder, either, so a solid performance by the offense and special teams didn't pay off.
It looks like the offense is hitting its stride, both on the ground and through the air. A week after putting up 55 points on the Titans, QB Aaron Rodgers passed for 365 yards and four touchdowns without an interception (131.8 passer rating). He reestablished his connection with veteran WRs Greg Jennings (eight catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns) and Jordy Nelson (three for 87 and one). Both have missed time with injuries. On the ground, it was the DuJuan Harris show; the diminutive second-year back carried 14 times for 70 yards (5.0 average), showcasing his speed, power and physicality. He also displayed keenness in pass protection, as Rodgers audibled from under center to shotgun pass plays on multiple occasions. The revamped offensive line -- with Evan Dietrich-Smith making his second career start at center and undrafted rookie Don Barclay making his fourth at right tackle -- showed some holes. It allowed five sacks, including three by DE Everson Griffen against Barclay. Previous week's grade: A
Perhaps finding a spot on the unit for veteran DB Charles Woodson, who's missed the last nine games with a broken collarbone, won't be so difficult. In their worst defense performance outside of the 38-point yield to the Giants in Week 12, the Packers were gashed by Peterson and sliced by Ponder to the tune of 444 total yards. Peterson's 199 yards left him 9 yards short of Eric Dickerson's all-time single-season mark of 2,105. The Packers weren't able to muster any kind of pass rush (one sack), so Ponder was able take his time finding receivers like Jarius Wright (three catches for 90 yards and a touchdown). Previous week's grade: A
Special teams: B+
K Mason Crosby may be officially out of his own head. After struggling through the worst slump of his career for more than two months, he converted both of his field goal attempts for the second straight week, including a 51-yarder. Seeing Crosby make a 50-yard field goal is a big confidence-booster going into the playoffs for both kicker and coach. P Tim Masthay was excellent, as usual, though the punt coverage units weren't as typically sound. Filling in for injured return man Randall Cobb (ankle), first-year WR Jeremy Ross looked phenomenal -- fleet, nimble, decisive -- and he had a 44-yard kick return and a 32-yard punt return. Coach Mike McCarthy has stated Cobb will be back on special teams if he's healthy, and Cobb said Sunday he would be. But Ross has shown the ability to replace him for now and 2013. Previous week's grade: A-
Whether they weren't ready, were poorly motivated, or the Vikings simply played better and harder, the Packers appeared outcoached. A first-round bye for a team as bruised and battered as Green Bay should have been ample incentive to match Minnesota's fire. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers didn't have his men ready. Peterson is certainly superhuman, but there simply has to be a better gameplan to slow him down than what the Packers have done in two games, allowing him 408 yards. Their four leading tacklers were defensive backs, a clear indication of how often he got into the secondary. After the game, DT B.J. Raji said “coaches coach, players play,” but neither has done so well enough against Peterson. Previous week's grade: A-