GREEN BAY—A Packers defense that got the blame for a 37-34 loss in Minnesota a week ago, got the credit for a 24-10 win over the Vikings on Saturday night.
"Our defense tonight played at a championship level, and that's what you need in the playoffs," Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said following a wild-card round playoff win that will send the Packers to San Francisco for a divisional-round playoff game against the 49ers next Saturday night.
The Packers allowed 444 yards to the Vikings in the Week 17 loss; they grudgingly surrendered 324 yards in the wild-card win, and 119 of those yards were the product of two late-game, after-the-fact drives.
"It says a lot about Dom Capers and his staff. They wanted to make a statement," Rodgers said of the performance by the Packers defense, which was thrown a curve ball just 90 minutes before kickoff, when it was revealed Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder would not play due to an elbow injury he sustained in the previous week's game.
"I was surprised when I saw the inactives and he was out of the game," Rodgers said of Ponder.
Ponder had appeared on the Vikings' week-long injury report as being a limited participant in practice, but it's common for players to limit their practice time late in the season. The fact that Ponder finished the game in Minnesota the previous week and showed no signs of an injury, helped the Vikings hide Ponder's condition. Ponder was officially listed as "questionable" on the Friday game status report. That was the first indication that something might be wrong.
"They did a good job of keeping it under wraps," Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy said of the Vikings' stealth. "I'm not going to tell you I knew Joe Webb was going to play. The (Packers defensive) coaches did a helluva job."
As the Packers were preparing for Ponder, who had played the best game of his pro career in the win in Minnesota, the Vikings were installing a read-option offense that would emphasize Webb's talents as a runner. On the opening drive of the game, Webb used the read-option and his running ability to move the Vikings 53 yards without having completed a pass. After the drive stalled, Blair Walsh kicked a 33-yard field goal.
Between then and the final four minutes of the game, the Packers defense dominated the action. With 4:10 to play in the game, Webb had only thrown for 61 yards.
"I thought we owned the line of scrimmage," McCarthy said of his defense, which quickly adjusted to its new challenge.
The Packers held Adrian Peterson to fewer than a hundred yards rushing – 99 yards, to be exact – for the first time this season, after Peterson had rushed for 409 yards in the two previous meetings with the Packers.
So, which defense will the Packers take to San Francisco, the one that was gashed twice by Peterson, or the one that owned the line of scrimmage and sacked Webb three times? The answer to that question will likely decide whether or not the Packers advance to the NFC title game.
Offensively, the Packers were workmanlike in eliminating the Vikings from the playoffs. Rodgers threw for 274 yards, one touchdown and a 104.9 passer rating. He completed passes to 10 different receivers and the Packers suffered no turnovers.
"Kind of an average day on offense," Rodgers said. "You have to be smart with the football in the playoffs. We were plus-three; you're going to win most of those games."
"I thought he played very well," McCarthy said of his quarterback. "It was a typical Aaron Rodgers game."
You're going to win most of those games, too. Additional coverage - Packers vs. Vikings