MINNEAPOLIS—Once more, the Packers will try to stop Adrian Peterson.
A walk-off, 37-34 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday cost the Packers the No. 2 seed and the first-round playoff bye that accompanies it, moving the Packers down to No. 3 and setting up a rematch against the Vikings Saturday at 7 p.m. CT at Lambeau Field.
“Tough loss. Playoffs are upon us. We have the opportunity to play the Vikings again, back at Lambeau,” Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy said following arguably the most intense game of the season.
Tied 34-34 with two minutes to play in the game, Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder completed a third-and-11 pass to Mike Jenkins, and Peterson did the rest from there. The NFL rushing champion broke loose on a 26-yard run that allowed rookie Blair Walsh a 29-yard field goal as time expired. The win caps a Cinderella season for the Vikings, who rallied from 3-13 a year ago to a playoff berth this year, and it was Peterson that led the way.
Peterson turned his comeback season from knee reconstruction into one of the greatest performances in NFL history. He fell just nine yards shy of setting the all-time, single-season rushing record, but his 199 yards rushing – 409 yards in two games against the Packers this season – on Sunday even left the Packers in awe.
“He’s incredible. I told him after the game that he’s the best,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said.
Peterson was the driving force in the Vikings taking a 13-0 lead on their first three possessions of the game, it was his 28-yard run on a second-and-27 play that helped keep the Packers at arm’s length during the visitors’ third-quarter rally, and Peterson was the player to whom the Vikings turned when the game was on the line.
“Adrian Peterson was the focal point,” McCarthy said. “Defensively, we didn’t do a good job of stopping the run. That’s obvious.”
The Packers also didn’t do a good job of getting off the field on third down. Ponder, who had a miserable outing at Lambeau Field on Dec. 2, was at his best on third down, as the Vikings converted six of 12 tries. Ponder threw for 234 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 120.2 passer rating.
He was out-pointed by Rodgers, who threw for 365 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and a 131.8 passer rating, but Peterson tilted the field. He’s done that all season.
“We’ll play anybody in the playoffs. It’s an opportunity we’re familiar with. Most importantly, we’ll be at home,” McCarthy said.
McCarthy was involved in a challenge flag controversy that didn’t cost him a touchdown, as it did the Lions’ Jim Schwartz, because the replay review had already begun. It was, nonetheless, a play that typified the intensity of the game.
“Emotional decision,” McCarthy said of having thrown the challenge flag unnecessarily.
It was a win-and-in game for the Vikings, which meant their season was on the line. At stake for the Packers was a bye the team wanted so it could rest injured players.
“A lot of us wanted that extra week. It would’ve helped with Randall’s (Cobb) and Charles’ (Woodson) injuries,” Rodgers said.
Cobb didn’t play on Sunday, the result of knee and ankle injuries he sustained in the previous game. Woodson is trying to make a comeback from a broken collarbone. The issue of their availability will be major news items this week.
“They’ve got a good team. It’s going to happen from time to time,” Rodgers said of the Vikings and the Packers’ first loss within the NFC North in the last two years.
“This is a tough place to play. You have to absorb the first surge. We did that,” Rodgers added. “This was a playoff atmosphere.”
It will certainly be a playoff atmosphere when the two teams meet in Lambeau, as the third game of the season between the two teams leaves the comfort of the Metrodome and steps onto the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field.
Maybe the cold can stop Peterson.
Additional coverage - Dec. 30