In the moment it was announced that Christian Ponder won’t be starting, it was almost game over. Adrian Peterson wasn’t enough when Aaron Rodgers had so many targets to throw to.
It ended in a 24-10 win for the Green Bay Packers, meeting the Minnesota Vikings for the third time in six weeks and second time in six days. Adrian Peterson was truly alone this time, and there was no one to help him. The Packers focused everything they had on defense in stopping the NFL’s best running back, who did run for 99 yards on 22 carries, but it wasn’t even close to being enough.
Not when the quarterback is Joe Webb, who hasn’t thrown a single pass all season. Webb couldn’t get anything right, finishing with 11-30, 180 yards for a touchdown and an interception. He was sacked three times, twice by Clay Matthews who becomes the second Packers player with two playoff games of two sacks or more and looked as uncomfortable as you would expect from a quarterback who gets his first snaps of the entire season in the postseason’s opening day.
On the other hand, there was Aaron Rodgers. Not numbers from outer-space, just good, great and almost unstoppable as always. The Packers, leading 24-3 until the last three minutes of the game, had time to go to the ground, without a lot of success, finishing with only 76 rushing yards. They did score two touchdowns from running play – DuJuan Harris with the first touchdown of the game just as the first quarter was ending and John Kuhn, who also caught a pass for a touchdown, made it 17-3 just before the half with a 3 yard run.
With his two touchdowns, Kuhn is the only player in the NFL to score a touchdown in each of the last four postseasons. He was one of 10 players catching a pass off Aaron Rodgers, who finished with 23-33, 274 yards and a touchdown pass. With all of his four receivers available, Rodgers just had too much option in front of him not to succeed. The Minnesota pressure got to him only three times, which is nothing in Packers terms, usually letting teams run all over their MVP quarterback.
Webb, as the contrast in Purple, threw an interception and fumbled the ball, one of three Vikings turnovers. There wasn’t too much of a prayer with Webb – he as completed 35.2% of his throws more than 10 yards downfield in his career going into the game, the worst percentage among 60 QBs with at least 50 such passes since 2010.
Knowing that, the Packers simply focused on Peterson. He finished below 100 yards for only the second time in the last 11 games. Our main focus, whether it was Ponder or Webb, was to keep 28 from getting off. And if we were going to keep him from getting off, put the ball in the quarterback’s hands, whatever quarterback it was, we felt good about what was going to happen.
Next? San Francisco 49ers, a team that beat the Green Bay Packers in Wisconsin 30-22 on the opening weekend. A guaranteed loss, even before they step on the field? The Packers are a different team right now than they were in week 1. How different? They still depend mostly on Aaron Rodgers to get everything done on offense. The 49ers are probably the team that has changed the most since that win. Too changed to feel a lot of confidence heading into the game.