MINNEAPOLIS – On a Packers team that seems to possess the perfect blend of young and old, it was the veteran cornerback and young running back that shined at key moments on Sunday.
Charles Woodson’s two third-quarter interceptions led to a pair of field goals and James Starks’ 55 yards rushing on the Packers’ final possession killed the final 2 ½ minutes on the clock as the Packers held on for a 33-27 victory over the Vikings at the Metrodome.
For Woodson, he turned in his seventh career multi-interception game, his sixth since joining the Packers in 2006 and his second this season. Earlier this year, Woodson snagged two of Carolina rookie Cam Newton’s passes, and on Sunday it was another rookie in Minnesota’s Christian Ponder, but Woodson said this time the plays weren’t about reading a rookie with his veteran savvy.
“We probably played 99 percent man-defense today,” Woodson said. “You have your back to the ball a lot, your back to the quarterback a lot, and you just try to put yourself in position and get your head around when you think the ball is coming and make a play on it.”
With the Packers leading 27-17, Woodson’s first interception came when he cut in front of tight end Visanthe Shiancoe on an out-route toward the sideline, and Ponder mistakenly threw the ball.
Three plays into the Vikings’ next possession, Ponder underthrew a corner route to receiver Michael Jenkins and the ball landed in Woodson’s hands.
Ponder had escaped a few close shaves in the first half on passes that were nearly picked off, so as the game wore on it seemed like only a matter of time before someone for the Packers was going to make him pay. It was no surprise that someone was Woodson.
“I really feel like I should have had four today,” Woodson said, with a completely straight face. “But I wasn’t able to come up with them. I had a couple, which is good, but I feel like every time I’m around the ball and get a finger tip on it I should catch it.”
Both turnovers led to field goals and extended Green Bay’s lead to 33-17 after trailing 17-13 at halftime. Woodson was far from perfect on the day, allowing his share of completions, including a 24-yard touchdown pass to Jenkins over the middle when the throw was just too high for Woodson to make a play on the ball.
That score pulled the Vikings to within 33-27, and eventually the game came down to the Packers’ ground attack with Starks, who took over in the final 2:30.
After a Minnesota punt, the Packers got the ball on their own 20. The Vikings had all three timeouts remaining, plus the two-minute warning.
Six consecutive runs by Starks picked up three first downs and even overcame a false start by tight end Jermichael Finley in the process.
“At the end of the game, it’s what we try to do every week,” guard T.J. Lang said. “When we’ve got the ball there, we want to run the clock.
“It’s one of those, just, mentality things. They know we’re going to run the ball, we know we’re going to run the ball, and it’s just basically who wants it more. We didn’t want to put our defense in another position to go out there and make a last-minute stop.”
Starks gained 15 yards on his first run and then 20 on his third attempt. Ultimately, the game hinged on a third-and-7 from the Minnesota 43-yard line with just over a minute left, and Starks blew through a hole up the middle for 13 yards to seal the win.
Starks gained 55 of his 75 yards rushing on that final drive. Most impressive, he did so against one of the top five rushing defenses in the league.
Lang said the Vikings’ prideful run-stoppers were getting frustrated. Starks was relishing it.
“I love those moments, I’m born for those moments,” said Starks, who credited everyone on the blocking unit, from the line to fullback John Kuhn and to the receivers. “That’s why I think I’m playing now. I love the big plays. I’ll take them every time.”
So will the Packers, who hadn’t closed out a game in that fashion since Week 4 of last season against Detroit, when they burned the final 6 ½ minutes off the clock in a two-point game.
“That was awesome, man,” Finley said. “That shows a lot with our running game and our line. It’s only going to get better from there, and it’s going to make defenses change some things up.”
The Packers can expect defenses to try something different after they return from their bye week, but a veteran like Woodson knows one thing won’t change – these dogfight type of games.
Woodson felt Sunday’s 60-minute test from a division rival was important for the Packers heading into their bye, because they’re only going to get more of the same from here on out.
“I’ve never been 7-0, so I guess you have to say this is by far the best team I’ve been on, but it’s a long way to go,” Woodson said. “It’s a tough season. We know we’re going to have more games like today, that we have to gut it out to the end.” Additional coverage - Oct. 23