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Inbox: It doesn't get any tougher

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Bill from Wilmington, DE

Mike, first, Happy Birthday to little Hod! Are the Vikings more susceptible to the run or pass? I hope the Packers continue to run the ball to open play-action.

I think that's the key to the whole game offensively for the Packers, because the play-action is going to slow up the Vikings' pass rush, and if that pass rush isn't controlling the line of scrimmage, I like the Packers' chances of protecting the ball and not turning it over.

Julian from Gastonia, NC

Keys to winning Monday night? Offensive line play with minimal false starts in the loud dome. On defense, protect against long pass plays. Try to make the Vikings move the ball by moving the chains, and hope that defenders can create a turnover or two. All players must be sound in their respective duties and communicate well despite the noise.

Sounds like a plan. I normally feel very confident in the Packers' chances in any game if they don't lose the turnover battle and at least break even. I think in this environment they almost have to win the turnover battle to win the game. There's so much else working against them.

Cameron from Wayland, MI

I was pleased with how the offensive line held up with a formidable defense in Chicago. I feel like every week we are only as good as they perform. How does our offensive line match up with the Vikings in this stadium?

Better than if this game had been early in the year when the offense was just getting its feet wet. But this is a huge challenge, regardless. Indoors on the road in a prime-time, high-stakes game – it doesn't get any tougher for any offensive line.

Chuck from Gold Canyon, AZ

PFF had four Packers make their player of the week team: Bakhtiari, Bulaga, Clark and Ervin for Week 15. Obviously the two tackles would be huge but what other player(s) need to make top grade to win next Monday?

Steve from Kansas City, MO

Waiting to see if Don Hutson gets picked to the all-time NFL team. Nobody – including Jerry Rice – has come close to dominating his era so completely as did Don Hutson. Do you see any way they can ignore what Don Hutson did?

Not. A. Chance. The man held the all-time record for receiving TDs for more than four decades, hasn't played a down for three-quarters of a century, and still ranks 11th on the all-time list.

Lori from Brookfield, WI

Mike, what does the Vikings' path to the playoffs look like?

I haven't answered a question from Lori in forever because she gets more than her due from Wes, but he leaves playoff scenarios to me, so here goes. The Vikings need one more win, or a loss by the Rams, to get in. Pretty simple. So on Saturday night in the Rams-49ers game, Green Bay and Minnesota fans will be cheering for opposite sides.

Rachel from Appleton, WI

During the booth review for potential defensive PI at the end of the game, Larry and Wayne said there was a strong likelihood we would get called for holding before the ball was thrown. I thought that penalty couldn't be called on replay, only PI could be called on replay starting this season. Could you clarify what penalties can be called from replay please?

To my knowledge, the only penalties that are subject to replay review are pass interference, 12 players on the field (or illegal substitution), and illegal forward pass (such as whether the QB crossed the line of scrimmage, or to determine whether a ball went forward or backward).

Brian from Schertz, TX

Hi Insiders, I see kick returners hold their arms out to the side as the kick sails past them. Is this a signal to the referees stating they will not make a play on the ball? Or is it to the return team blockers? Or both?

It's for the blockers so they don't put the blocking scheme on film or show it to the opponent unnecessarily.

Theologos from Athens, Greece

Mike, do you think that with his postgame comments Aaron is trolling the perpetual doubters or he is knowing something about this team that we, as outsiders, cannot see?

I think Rodgers has been on a lot of teams that may have won just as many games, or been in position to, but didn't have the vibe and cohesiveness of this one. That's why he says he likes this team. He clearly acknowledges it has to be more consistent to be considered a great team, but he believes it's closer to getting there than others do.

Mike from Verona, WI

Following up on James' question on the Patterson hit on Tramon Williams on the punt return...If there are rules in place to protect a defenseless receiver on offense, why isn't there a rule in place to protect a defenseless punt returner?

There is. It's called a fair catch. But as other readers have pointed out, I think the officials simply called the wrong penalty. Patterson led with his helmet. That's a flag anywhere on the field these days.

Mike from Niles, IL

Some excellent points made in today's column, and a couple of hopefully correct (MVS ability, ST improvements, lack of injury) ones. What still troubles me is the continued undercurrent that winning ugly is somehow OK, and we should be happy with it. The W's, yeah. The ugly, no way. What goes around comes around, and the pattern will not continue, especially against good teams. This team is too good to win ugly. You did acknowledge this in one comment response.

I laid it out in Monday's "Unscripted" the different ways this team and its immediate future can be viewed. (1) The way they're hanging on to win all these close games when they've missed opportunities to do more will eventually catch up to them, as you've posited. (2) The scratch-and-claw, fight-for-everything, find-a-way mentality will keep them going, because it builds on itself and creates invaluable confidence and belief in the clutch moments. (3) This team can play at another level, and it's on the verge of getting there but hasn't reached it yet. I'm taking Door No. 3. It guarantees nothing and I'm not predicting anything, but I believe they're capable while fully understanding the skeptics. There's evidence supporting both sides, and I won't argue. I also believe the combination of Doors 2 and 3 is what makes for a truly dangerous team in January.

Mike from St. Louis, MO

Two weeks to go and the Packers can wind up seeded first, second, third, or sixth. How exciting is that?

Just the fact that the Packers have reached this stage of the season with control of a first-round bye for the first time in five years is significant. Rodgers has been in this position three times and earned the bye twice, in '11 and '14. Here's the kicker, though – the one time they came up short was due to the loss at Minnesota in '12, and it changed the way the entire NFC playoffs unfolded.

Bruce from New Canaan, CT

Wes wrote that getting a win at Minnesota would be "quite a statement." Indeed it would. What game until now would you consider to be the Packers' most impressive performance and how would your choice stack up against the most impressive performances in the years that the Packers were SB contenders (2010, 2011, 2014)? Obviously, this is a leading question as I doubt you would consider any game played thus far this year to be at the same standard as the Packers' best in those years.

I said it earlier in this space the win at Dallas this year was when I started wondering if this team really had something. I know Green Bay's defense started to break down late, but 31-3 with three minutes left in the third quarter, on the road, against a team pegged as a contender, really stood out. Back in '10, nothing really jumped out to me until the Atlanta playoff win. In '11, the road wins at Atlanta (down 14-0 out of the gate) and at New York (walk-off field goal) were impressive. In '14, it was the late November home win over New England, which still ranks as one of the best regular-season games I've ever witnessed. The Packers haven't had that type of late-season moment this year, yet.

Matt from Manhattan, KS

B.J. Goodson inactive because of the game plan. Can we just take a minute to recognize the amazing job the whole team has done in keeping so many players healthy this year that in a Week 15 game, we have to keep notable players on the roster inactive because we have too many healthy bodies?

The health of the team has been well documented.

Jon from West Des Moines, IA

I would really appreciate it if the II just did a collective knock on wood here for the post yesterday about no season-ending injuries on the Packers. All I'm asking for is two solid knocks from everyone and I'll be feeling much better.

The health of the team has made folks superstitious.

Tracy from Sioux Falls, SD

Finally some well-deserved love for 69 and as the starter no less. I'll chug a beer in his honor. Hope I can do a better job than AR. Just kidding. Got him covered on this. Too bad he'll be busy the following weekend to play in it.

I'm glad for Bakhtiari. He deserved it before now, and the irony is I think he would rank this as a solid though not his best season. It's how this stuff goes and why I don't get too worked up over it.

Ian from Sherman Oaks, CA

Having only two Pro Bowl selections feels like a bit of a slight. If you had it in your power to add one more Packer player, who would it be?

I have to pick two – Bulaga and Crosby. Nothing against the Smiths or Jones, and I know it's not meant to be a career achievement award, but Bulaga and Crosby are seasoned, accomplished pros who are currently on top of their games yet have never had the honor. Crosby's a first alternate, so he very well could get the call, provided he's available. For Bulaga to not even make any alternate lists is a downright shame.

Tom from Suwanee, GA

Is that Jake's little brother playing in the national championship game for UW-Whitewater? Same flowing locks coming out of the helmet but I never hear the broadcast team mention it during the Warhawks' games. Thinking they'd say something after one of his big catches. Go Warhawks! (from an alumni)

Yes, Derek Kumerow is indeed Jake's younger brother. My wife is also a UW-W grad.

Ron from Broken Arrow, OK

Mike, how many "kick to the clock" references did you get in Monday's Inbox after the Dak Prescott incident in Dallas? Further, what were your thoughts on the league's action regarding the incident?

I didn't see anyone chime in with Vic's old story when I was working on the column Sunday night. I thought the league did the right thing, because there was audio of Prescott saying "defer" even if he said "kick" first. This league has enough technicalities it doesn't need to get hung up on one like that.

Jim from Oakland, CA

How is a multi-lateral play like the Bears used at the end of the game scored in the stat sheet? Does each player who touched the ball get credit for the yardage they gained, does it all go the guy who made the catch, or does it all go to the last guy who had it?

Cohen gets the reception and the receiving yards, up until the point he laterals it. Everyone else who possesses the ball is credited with receiving yards (positive or negative) until giving it up, but is not given a reception. For example, the official box score has Trubisky, who grabbed Cohen's initial lateral and advanced the ball before lateraling to Horsted, for five receiving yards but no catches. All the yards gained on the play go on the QB's passing yards, because it started with a pass reception. This way, the team's total receiving yards still match the QB's passing yards when it's all said and done. The general concept is the same if it's a running play followed by laterals.

Bill from Reedsville, WI

I was glad Dan from Wausau asked the question about the last play of the game. You gave a really good explanation. I believe that happened in a Raiders playoff game years ago. Dave Casper from Chilton fumbled before the end zone into the end zone and another Raider recovered it in the end zone to win the game. I think it is called the Dave Casper rule.

It was the "Holy Roller" play, Raiders at Chargers, Sept. 1978 (not the playoffs). On the last play of the game, Oakland QB Ken Stabler fumbled the ball forward, teammate Pete Banaszak "fumbled" it forward even further while acting like he was falling on it, and Casper recovered in the end zone. It was ruled a touchdown, and it led to the rule change that fumbles in the last two minutes of either half can only be advanced by the person who fumbled it.

Kevin from Holmen, WI

On the A-Rod penalty for intentional grounding, what's the rule when the QB's arm is hit while throwing, if at all? I mean, he was out of the pocket, was throwing towards the line, and we see QB hits causing bad throws all the time, with no penalty. Please clarify?

If there's clearly an intended receiver, there's no intentional grounding if the QB's arm is hit and the ball goes nowhere near the target. But if the QB is just throwing it away from outside the pocket, he has to be able get it to the line of scrimmage or the defense is rewarded for the play – either a sack if he doesn't try to throw it or intentional grounding if the defender prevented the throw from going far enough.

Tom from Dollar Bay, MI

Spoff, I agree that even at 7-9 a division winner deserves a spot in the show. My thought is if the wild-card team has a better record, they should host the game. Kind of a hybrid theory to mitigate the reward to mediocre divisions.

I could see that, and I didn't want my long explanation Monday to preclude this potential suggestion, so I'm sorry if I misled anybody. I responded to an insistence that winning a division should be meaningless if the record isn't good enough, which goes counter to the league's entire scheduling formula. That aside, the idea mentioned here has come up numerous times before but gotten no momentum in league circles. Everything I've read indicates the owners want division winners rewarded with a home playoff game, period.

David from Philadelphia, PA

I know a lot of coaches have had great seasons, Mike Tomlin in particular without a franchise QB. But why is there no discussion of ML as coach of the year? Most coaches win it because they turn a team around that was a disaster last year. The Packers may not have looked good winning at times but they're still going to be an 11- or 12- (maybe 13-) win team.

I've said before there are several strong candidates for coach of the year, and I believe LaFleur is one of them. I also don't think he's going to win because he has Aaron Rodgers. Not saying that's right or wrong, just how I think it'll play out. In that vein, I do find it funny there's one narrative out there that LaFleur has benefited greatly as a first-year coach by having an elite QB, while others are claiming Rodgers is no longer elite. I hereby declare the pundits can't have it both ways.

Cindy from Oshkosh, WI

The Vikings have won their last two games handily. The Packers have won their last two games kinda ugly. The Packers haven't won in Minnesota. Kirk Cousins hasn't won on Monday night. Something's gotta give. The playoffs start Monday night.

I can appreciate the sentiment. This game is in all likelihood the difference between the Packers playing the first weekend in January, or advancing already to the second. Happy Wednesday.

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