MINNEAPOLIS—It took a while, but the Packers offense found its high gear on Sunday. It just needed the ball one more time but didn’t get it.
After producing just one first down and 32 yards on their first three possessions, the Packers took off, beginning in the middle of the second quarter. They rolled up 373 yards and 34 points over the final 2 ½ quarters, but it wasn’t enough in a last-play, three-point loss to the Vikings at the Metrodome.
“We ran into some tough breaks,” receiver Jordy Nelson said of the slow start that contributed to an early 13-0 deficit. “The first third down (James Jones) slipped, the second one they batted the ball down. We had guys open but weren’t able to make a play. Once we got through that, we were able to move the ball and put points on the board.”
The offense took advantage of having receivers Nelson and Greg Jennings together on the field for a full game for the first time since Week 3, even though Randall Cobb (ankle/knee) was sidelined for this one.
Jennings played superbly, making multiple tacklers miss and gaining big yards after the catch on his way to an eight-reception, 120-yard, two-TD day. Returning from a hamstring injury that sidelined him for three weeks, Nelson added three receptions for 87 yards, including a 73-yarder in the third quarter to set up Jones’ 14th TD catch of the season.
“That was embarrassing – it was the first time I’ve been caught from behind,” Nelson said.
Nelson did come out of the game briefly with what was reported as a knee injury, but when replacement Jarrett Boykin subsequently turned an ankle in the fourth quarter on a fourth-down catch, Nelson was back in and proceeded to tie the game at 34. He drew a pass interference penalty on cornerback A.J. Jefferson at the 2-yard line and then caught a back-shoulder throw from Aaron Rodgers on the very next snap.
“Once Boykin went down, I had no choice. I knew I could get through it and was able to,” Nelson said. “I told them if they wanted ‘zebra’ (formation) down in the red zone, I’d be able to do it.”
Nelson also tried to save his head coach a penalty when Mike McCarthy mistakenly challenged Jones’ TD catch in the third quarter. It was initially ruled a fumble and McCarthy threw the flag in anger, which would have negated the automatic review of a turnover had the replay official not already buzzed the referee from upstairs to initiate the review.
Nelson was shown on TV picking up McCarthy’s red flag and hiding it as he walked back to the bench, because he knew the rule. It all worked out for the Packers, but it could have been a disaster.
When asked what McCarthy said when Nelson returned his flag to him, Nelson said the reply was simply, “Thank you.”
Go-to guy?: Running back DuJuan Harris wasn’t going to say so, but it appears the Packers found their No. 1 ball-carrier for the playoffs.
After Ryan Grant had two carries for two yards on the first two series, the Packers went to Harris in the backfield and stayed with him the rest of the game.
The diminutive change-of-pace back ran with burst, cut back hard into open lanes and repeatedly fell forward for extra yards. He finished with 14 carries for 70 yards and added 17 receiving yards on two catches. He credited the offensive line for paving the way, but he ran with a purpose not always seen in the Packers’ ground game.
“I feel like I was ready,” said Harris, whose knowledge of the offense has grown daily since getting signed off the practice squad less than a month ago. “I was ready for whatever calls were going to be made.”
Crosby in the clutch: Kicker Mason Crosby, mired in the worst slump of his career, hit two clutch field goals on Sunday – a 51-yarder on the final play of the first half and a 40-yarder to tie the game at 27 early in the fourth quarter.
“Yeah, they were important ones,” said Crosby, who has now made four straight field goals after two misses two weeks ago in Chicago gave him 12 misses over a span of 10 games. He’s now 21-of-33 on the season, and his 51-yarder was just his second make in nine tries from 50-plus this season.
“I want to keep building off of that and keep it rolling. It’s a different season now. It’s the playoffs. We have to be consistent and be solid through the playoffs.”
With 10 points in the game (two FG, four PAT), Crosby actually set an NFL record for the most points by a player in his first six seasons in the league, with 762. Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt had 755 from 1998-2003.
More records: Rodgers continues to put his name all over the record books. With 365 yards passing, four TDs and a 131.8 passer rating on Sunday, Rodgers became just the second QB in league history to post four consecutive seasons with a passer rating of 100-plus. Steve Young (1991-94) is the only other one.
Rodgers also eclipsed 4,000 yards on the season for the second straight year, joining Brett Favre as the only Packers QBs to accomplish that feat. Favre did it in 1998-99.
With 28 completions, Rodgers set a career high this season with 371 completions, falling just short of Favre’s single-season team record of 372 set in 2005.
Jermichael Finley had eight catches for 72 yards on the day, setting a franchise record for receptions in a season by a tight end. He finished the season with 61 receptions, beating Paul Coffman’s mark of 56 set in 1979.
Punter Tim Masthay placed one last punt inside the 20-yard line, giving him 30 this year and tying the franchise record in the category set in 1998 by Sean Landeta. The statistic has been kept since 1976.
Injury update: In addition to the injuries to Nelson and Boykin, defensive end Jerel Worthy left the game with a knee injury. Additional coverage - Dec. 30