GREEN BAY—Morgan Burnett's hands had been on several passes this season, but the third-year safety had yet to pull in an interception, until Sunday.
Burnett didn't get just one, he got two, and both picks came at critical times in the Packers' 23-14 victory over the Vikings at Lambeau Field.
"Those were game-changers right there," linebacker A.J. Hawk said.
Yes, they were. The first one came on the opening possession of the second half, with Minnesota already leading, 14-10. Running back Adrian Peterson had just broken off a 48-yard run to get the Vikings into the red zone and in position to add to their lead.
Two snaps later, though, quarterback Christian Ponder made the sinful mistake of throwing back across the middle of the field late, and his floater for Michael Jenkins in the back of the end zone was snagged by Burnett.
That got Burnett off the schneid for 2012, but he wasn't done. Fellow safety Charles Woodson warned him to stay on his toes.
" 'Wood' always tells us those picks now, no matter when you get them, they come in bunches," Burnett said. "That was a true statement today."
A handful of possessions later, on the final play of the third quarter with the Packers leading 20-14, the Vikings were again approaching the red zone following a 23-yard scamper by Peterson. But Ponder made another error, trying to fit a tight one into tight end Kyle Rudolph's hands. Burnett undercut the route, made the interception and the Vikings were denied again. Ponder posted an abysmal 41.9 passer rating, completing just 12 of 25 passes for 119 yards.
"If you can erase a team from getting points on the board, that's big," Burnett said. "If you can steal another possession for the offense, that's real big."
The Packers converted both interceptions into field goals, but more important, the turnovers helped nullify a monster day from Peterson. He had an 82-yard TD run in the first half to go with the two explosive runs in the second half, finishing with 21 carries for 210 yards, the third-most rushing yards ever gained against the Packers. Only a pair of Los Angeles Rams – Tom Wilson in 1956 (223 yards) and Greg Bell in 1989 (221) – have gained more vs. Green Bay.
Peterson's total is the second-most ever in a game at Lambeau, behind only the 218 yards by Green Bay's Ahman Green against Denver in 2003.
The Packers talked all week about how strong Peterson looked coming back from last December's ACL injury, and they got a true taste of it first-hand.
"It's unbelievable watching him," defensive lineman Ryan Pickett said. "He came back better."
The Packers' running game got better, too, and was a huge factor in the second half, particularly on Green Bay's go-ahead scoring drive.
Trailing 14-13, the Packers drove 51 yards for a touchdown in four plays, three of them runs. Alex Green gained 11 and seven yards on the first two snaps, and then James Starks finished it off with a 22-yard run around right end for the score. That was the Packers' first rushing TD since Week 5 in Indianapolis and Starks' first rushing TD since Week 1 of last season.
Mike McCarthy mentioned earlier in the week he wanted to get back to the shared run production the Packers enjoyed against Arizona before the bye, and the offense did that. Starks (15 carries, 66 yards) and Green (12-58) combined for 124 yards on 27 carries, a healthy 4.6 average, all despite another injury up front, as undrafted rookie Don Barclay replaced T.J. Lang (ankle) at right tackle.
"It made the defense frustrated, and that's what it's all about," Green said. "We were keeping them guessing and making them pay a little bit."
"It keeps teams honest," added receiver Greg Jennings, who made his return from a seven-game absence and had four catches for 46 yards. "We talk about the 'Cover 2,' who's the key to beating the 'Cover 2,' and it's the run game. If you're not running the ball well, teams are going to be able to sit back, put six in the box, and that's it."
The running backs churned out another 25 yards on the game-sealing 18-play, 11-minute fourth-quarter drive for a field goal, a march that saw the Packers convert four consecutive third downs. The scoring drive was the longest, play- and time-wise, for the Packers this season (plus the longest time-wise in the NFL all year), and like a lot of big happenings Sunday, it came at the right moment.
"That was a big, big drive for us," left tackle Marshall Newhouse said. "Hopefully we can make that a habit, definitely." Additional coverage - Packers vs. Vikings