GREEN BAY—New quarterback, same running back, very different results.
The Packers had to adjust to Joe Webb taking over at quarterback for Christian Ponder on Saturday night, but it was still Adrian Peterson running the ball right at them for the third time in 35 days.
This time, the Packers bottled up the 2,000-yard rusher, holding him to 99 yards on 22 carries to key a comfortable 24-10 NFC Wild Card Playoff victory at Lambeau Field. His 4.5-yard average paled in comparison to the 7.4 mark Peterson put up through the first two meetings against the Packers as he piled up 409 yards.
“That’s the type of football we want to play,” outside linebacker Clay Matthews said. “Tonight was a great step, especially against a great running back and a scheme that wanted to kind of punch us right in the face. I think we responded, set our jaws and kept him in check, relatively speaking, of course.”
Peterson’s long run of the night was just 18 yards, and that didn’t occur until the fourth quarter with the game well in hand. The Packers talked all week about not being over-aggressive against Peterson, which had allowed him in previous games to escape the pile and bounce runs outside for big gains.
Matthews referred to it as a “tempo back” approach, slowing down and staying under control. As a result, Peterson didn’t get to the edges nearly as often, and he was held under 100 yards for just the second time in his last 11 games.
“We tried to keep him inside,” defensive lineman B.J. Raji said. “Adrian, obviously his lateral ability is phenomenal, so he’s going to make some plays just off his athleticism. But ultimately, if you can keep him in the box, you can limit his long-yardage runs.”
It helped to get safety Charles Woodson back after a nine-game absence due to his broken collarbone. A fearless player against the run, Woodson attacked at the line of scrimmage in certain packages and was credited with six tackles, including one behind the line.
Wearing larger-than-normal shoulder pads he said he didn’t particularly like, Woodson showed very little if any rust after his long layoff. He spoke of keeping himself in prime condition over the past month, waiting to get clearance to play.
“The game of football to me is second nature, so during the time off I’m not going to forget how to play football,” Woodson said. “A great line from the movie ‘Lincoln’ was ‘Once learned, always learned.’ I just had to get out there and do my thing.”
The Packers were thrown a bit of a curveball when they found out 90 minutes before kickoff that Ponder would be sidelined by an elbow injury and Webb would make his first start of the season, and just the fourth of his career.
A 6-4, 220-pound running quarterback, Webb ran some zone-read option plays early and combined with Peterson to lead the Vikings on a 53-yard drive for a field goal to open the game.
But once the Packers and Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers settled in, they made Webb pass the ball, and the Vikings struggled. Before Minnesota got a late TD and some junk yardage on the final possession, the Vikings gained just 152 yards over a stretch of nine drives from the middle of the first quarter to the middle of the fourth, and they didn’t score.
Webb gained 68 yards on seven rushes but was just 11-of-30 passing for 180 yards, with a 54.9 rating. Sam Shields intercepted him once, Matthews sacked him twice (forcing and recovering a fumble), and Erik Walden added a third sack and nearly a couple more.
“We were just thinking that’s a different type of athlete back there, so we have to be alert for boots and quarterback keeps and that zone-option read they were running,” Raji said. “We didn’t really prepare for that much this week, so it was good to see us adjust on the run like that. You have to give a lot of credit to Coach Capers and his staff.”
Most of the credit goes to the work against Peterson, though. On exactly half his carries (11), he was held to three yards or less. His first five carries went for 33 yards, his last two picked up 29, and the 15 in between gained just 37 yards.
“I’m happy that chapter is over and we can move on to something else,” defensive lineman Ryan Pickett said.
They’re moving on to San Francisco, a team that also likes to pound the ball and that features a mobile QB. Frank Gore isn’t Peterson – no one is – but Colin Kaepernick is far more dangerous than Webb.
A third confrontation with Peterson was a tough test the Packers were forced to pass, and time will tell if it has prepared them for the rest of the postseason.
“I think we’re a team right now that’s battle-tested,” Woodson said. “We’ve been in some tight ballgames and been able to pull them out. We feel like this week, going into a tough environment against a good team, that we’re ready for it.” Additional coverage - Packers vs. Vikings