GREEN BAY – It was the best play of Mason Crosby's career that didn't involve his right foot.
Crosby's strip of Vikings kickoff returner Cordarrelle Patterson at the end of a 70-yard runback in the fourth quarter temporarily saved the game for the Packers. It gave the offense one more shot to tie things up, but Green Bay still lost, 20-13, on Sunday night at Lambeau Field.
Check out photos from Sunday night's Packers-Vikings NFC North title game. Photos by Jim Biever, Packers.com.
The Packers had just cut the deficit to seven points with 5:35 left when Patterson took Crosby's kickoff one yard deep in the end zone and weaved into some open territory. As he crossed midfield and neared the Green Bay 30-yard line, Patterson slowed up a bit to set up his blockers, and Crosby surprised him from behind.
"I kind of bailed as far as I could, just trying to keep him from getting a clean path," Crosby said. "I turned, and he obviously didn't see me, and I was able to get my hand on the ball and popped it out of there.
"We drove down, had a chance to tie it there, and just came up a little short."
Micah Hyde recovered the fumble, and the Lambeau crowd got as loud as it had been all night as Aaron Rodgers hit passes of 17 yards to Randall Cobb and 37 to James Jones. The Packers drove all the way to the Minnesota 10-yard line, with a first-and-goal, but a sack on second down led to fourth-and-goal from the 13, and Rodgers was intercepted in the end zone.
"We're not happy to lose this game, but everything is right in front of us," Crosby said.
Another 100: Jones led Green Bay's offense with four receptions for 102 yards, his third 100-yard game of the year.
A nine-year veteran, Jones finished the regular season with 50 receptions for 890 yards, leading the team in yardage and setting a new career high in that category.
It was no consolation after the tough loss, but having been cut by two teams in the offseason, Jones seems to have gotten better with age. He had a career high for yardage in 2013 with the Packers, then a career high for receptions with Oakland last season, before topping his 817 yards from two years ago in 2015.
"We left one out there today, and it hurts, man," said Jones, expressing his belief in this team in the postseason but with the emphasis that it has plenty to prove.
"We're going to have to see. We've got everything we need in this locker room. We just need people to believe in each other."
Tough duty: Veteran Josh Sitton, now a three-time Pro Bowler at guard, hadn't played left tackle since high school but took on the task on Sunday night when David Bakhtiari (ankle) wasn't cleared to play. Lane Taylor stepped in at Sitton's usual left guard spot.
Facing arguably Minnesota's best defensive player in pass rusher Everson Griffen, Sitton had a tough chore. Griffen was credited with two sacks, three tackles for loss and four QB hits. Griffen's biggest play was knocking the ball loose from Rodgers' hand just as he tried to throw, forcing a fumble that Minnesota's Captain Munnerlyn ran back for a touchdown in the third quarter.
"I don't think I played great. I went out there and did the best I could," said Sitton, who played right tackle in college, though that was eight years ago or more. "I'm not a left tackle. I think I'm a guard. I think I've proved I can play pretty decent at guard, but we needed somebody to go in there and play, and I told them I'd do it. I went out there and fought the best I could."
Head Coach Mike McCarthy said Bakhtiari was close to getting the go-ahead but was not medically cleared. McCarthy sounded optimistic Bakhtiari could be back for the playoffs.
Injury update: Two players left the game with injuries for the Packers – defensive end Datone Jones (neck) and linebacker Andy Mulumba (knee).