GREEN BAY—Adrian Peterson was gashing them. One play into the second half, Peterson had already rushed for 174 yards and was only 49 yards shy of a Packers all-time opponents rushing record that has stood for 56 years.
“I think it definitely was a gut check for us at halftime,” Aaron Rodgers said.
Rodgers’ coach, Mike McCarthy, didn’t like the lack of emotion he sensed in his team at halftime. After Peterson went 48 yards on the first play of the second half, McCarthy probably liked his team’s halftime demeanor even less.
Then Morgan Burnett changed everything.
Burnett intercepted a Christian Ponder pass on second-and-six from the Packers 8-yard line. Ponder’s decision to force that pass can only be described as atrocious, or worse.
What’s important to note is the Vikings never scored another point. Peterson cranked out another long run, this one for 23 yards that helped him finish with 210 for the day, 13 yards shy of an opponents’ record, but the Vikings slowly faded as the Packers slowly but surely took control of the game and their postseason future.
At 6-6, Burnett’s interception might be the play that turned out the lights on the Vikings’ playoff hopes. Ironically, the play that wrecked the Vikings’ season came at a time when the visitors appeared to be on the verge of taking their game to a higher level. They were in complete control of the action, until then.
That’s how fragile life at the top is in the NFL. It’s all about the next play, the next game. At this time of the year, it’s all about becoming the hot team.
Can the Packers become the hot team?
The next two games, against Detroit and at Chicago, will provide the answer. There’s no margin for error late in the season. This is when the 2010 Packers got hot and it carried them to the Super Bowl XLV title, but this is not those Packers.
“In 2010, Charles (Woodson) was giving us a pep talk every week. This is a different team,” Rodgers explained.
The same halftime locker room McCarthy described as “flat,” Rodgers said was a “no panic locker room. We’ve been a not big rah-rah team,” he added.
That team belonged to Woodson. He was the heart and soul of it. This one belongs to Rodgers. As he goes, so go the Packers.
What Rodgers needs to carry the Packers into a postseason that includes real hope is a full complement of receivers, a line that’ll protect him and a running game that’ll force defenses to play more than just pass.
He got a lot of that against the Vikings. His protection was adequate. Greg Jennings is back, and even though Rodgers lost Jordy Nelson to a hamstring injury, McCarthy said he doesn’t think the injury is serious.
“He’ll take Jordy’s reps,” Rodgers said of Jennings. “I assume Greg will slide seamlessly back into that spot. He’s a big-time player. We have to give him more opportunities.”
Jermichael Finley caught six passes for 60 yards and his game is on the rise. So is James Starks’ after rushing for 66 yards and a game-winning, 22-yard touchdown.
When will the Packers get Clay Matthews back? How about Woodson’s return? Is Mason Crosby finally out of his slump?
The answers to these and other questions will preview whatever postseason run the Packers might make.
“When we had to have it in the fourth quarter, we put it together,” Rodgers said.
In a manner of speaking, this is the fourth quarter. Additional coverage - Packers vs. Vikings