GREEN BAY—The December air was choked with drama. As the Packers were putting the finishing touches to a 23-14 win that was much closer than the final score would indicate, the Chicago Bears were in the process of losing to the Seattle Seahawks.
"I can't say there are many Seahawks fans in our locker room, but we appreciate the help," Aaron Rodgers said.
Imagine that, cheering for the Seahawks. Is this a crazy season or what?
Thanks to the Seahawks' overtime win in Chicago, and a couple of interceptions by Packers safety Morgan Burnett, the Green Bay Packers are tied with the Bears for the NFC North lead with four games left in the season.
It's crunch time in the NFC North and the Packers and Bears are headed for a showdown in Chicago on Dec. 16. At halftime of Sunday's game against the Vikings, however, the only showdown for which the Packers were headed was another half of trying to stop Adrian Peterson.
The Packers defense never succeeded in stopping Peterson, but Burnett intercepted a Christian Ponder pass in the end zone to kill a Vikings drive that appeared as though it would stretch out the visitors' lead, and Coach Mike McCarthy said that play was a game-changer.
The Packers trailed, 14-10, when Burnett intercepted a Ponder pass that followed a 48-yard run by Peterson on the first play of the second half. The Vikings were threatening to increase their lead to 11 points against a Packers team that was coming off a "flat" halftime and struggling to find rhythm on offense.
"I thought our whole sideline changed after that," McCarthy said. "Halftime was not the best halftime. Kind of flat."
It was a time out by the Vikings and a change of heart that produced the next dramatic swing in the game. On fourth-and-seven from the Vikings 29, McCarthy changed his mind and marched slump-ridden Mason Crosby out for a 47-yard field goal attempt. Crosby had already missed from 53 and had bounced a 30-yard try off an upright and over the crossbar.
"I was in a four-down territory mindset. We went with a tempo play. When they called time out, I decided to go with the field goal," McCarthy said.
Maybe that kick will be the turning point in Crosby's game that the Packers desperately need as they head down the stretch.
"I like the way he responded. Why do you go for 55-yard field goals? Because we need Mason Crosby," McCarthy said.
Sunday's win marked the return of Crosby, Greg Jennings and the Packers running game, the emergence of rookie offensive tackle Don Barclay and the arrival of the final month of the season. This is it. This is crunch time.
"Don Barclay stepped in, got his opportunity and made the most of it," Rodgers said of the rookie from West Virginia, who was forced into his pro debut when T.J. Lang was lost to an ankle injury. The highlight of Barclay's day was a game-winning, 22-yard touchdown run by James Starks, who circled right end and untouched into the end zone.
"They played very soft," Rodgers said of the Vikings' defensive scheme. "We did a good job running the ball. The backs made the right cuts and it put us in manageable position."
It's four games for the division title. That's the position the Packers are in with their rivals, the Bears.
"The division could very well come down to that meeting. Everything is right in front of us," Rodgers said. Additional coverage - Packers vs. Vikings