MINNEAPOLIS—With the game on the line at crunch time, the Packers turned to their running game, and it sealed the deal.
Running game? The Packers?
That’s right, the running game. Imagine that.
A passing game that, all of a sudden, started looking a little jittery in the fourth quarter, gave way to six straight runs by James Starks and an Aaron Rodgers kneel down, and those seven plays killed the final 2:30 and three Vikings timeouts without having to do anything more risky than execute a handoff. Lead protected, Packers win, 33-27.
Come on, admit it. You liked that didn’t you? Isn’t that a lot better than risking an interception?
“I’m not crazy about the six consecutive handoffs, but it’s nice to finish the game like that. James ran the ball great and there was a lot of great blocking in there,” Rodgers said.
He’s the best quarterback in the game and nobody, but nobody, is more efficient or to be trusted with the ball, but twice earlier in the fourth quarter the Packers stayed on the attack and the results weren’t good.
Drive one began with 13:43 to play and the Packers protecting a 33-20 lead. Rodgers threw incomplete on first and third downs, the Packers took only a minute off the clock and the Vikings followed that three-and-out with a 93-yard touchdown drive that cut the Packers’ lead to a tense six points.
Then the Packers got the ball with 7:46 to play and a first-down completion was followed by a run, a short-of-the-sticks completion and an incompletion that gave the ball back to the Vikings with only two more minutes having been milked from the clock.
Hey, that’s not what Mike McCarthy has in mind when the Packers practice their four-minute offense day after day.
Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier was so unimpressed by those two “clock-killing” series that when it came time to decide between going for it on fourth-and-10 from the Vikings 36-yard line with 2:42 to play and all three timeouts remaining, or punt and risk not getting the ball back, Frazier elected to punt.
That’s when McCarthy decided to abandon the attack mode and play it more conservatively, conventionally. He turned to the run and Starks pounded out gains of 15, four, 20, minus-one, four and 13 yards. In the process, he expired the Vikings’ timeouts, the game clock and the Vikings’ hopes of an upset.
Vince Lombardi would’ve been so proud of these Packers.
“We hit a lull in our running game. It wasn’t productive. Their defense did a good job of squeezing the gaps,” McCarthy said, explaining his reluctance to turn to the run earlier in the quarter. “When it was on the line, we went back to it, stuck to it, and that’s how you want to finish games and we can build on that.”
So the Packers hit the bye week as not only the NFL’s lone undefeated team and possessors of the game’s most feared passing attack, they are also a team that can beat you with the run? The run? Hey, that was a Vikings defense that was fourth in the league against the run. That wasn’t mush the Packers were moving around with the game on the line.
This is a powerhouse team, folks. They have more weapons than any team in the league and now there is evidence to suggest the Packers’ running game is also deserving of respect. If that’s a fact, it’ll only serve to make the passing game better.
The first seven weeks of this season could only have been scripted better had the defense not allowed as many yards as it has. Sunday’s win over the Vikings added another 400-yards-plus outing to the defense’s resume, and when McCarthy speaks of his team knowing it can play better, it’s likely it’s with the defense in mind.
Yes, there is room for improvement on defense. It has allowed too many yards through the air and on Sunday it got torched for 175 yards rushing by the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson. Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers is, no doubt, going to use the bye week to execute an intense review of his unit’s performance to date.
So, what if the defense was to come to life in the second half of the season and return to its 2010 ways?
You know the answer to that question. Additional coverage - Oct. 23