MINNEAPOLIS — In the end, the anti-bye faction among Green Bay Packers fans got what they wanted.
For a third time.
But is trying to stop the NFL’s best running back after failing to do that twice this season really what the Packers wanted to open the playoffs? Especially after they flubbed a chance to secure a first-round bye with their 37-34 loss to Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday at the Metrodome?
We’ll find out soon because the Packers and Vikings will meet again in the opening round of the playoffs Saturday night at Lambeau Field. That’s a short turnaround for the Packers to figure out how to stop Peterson, who rushed for 199 yards Sunday, ran for 210 in an earlier meeting and finished the season with 2,097, the second-highest total in NFL history.
“Adrian’s a great player,” nose tackle B.J. Raji said. “We had opportunities and we didn’t cash in on them in a close divisional game with your opponent fighting for their lives. We came up short. Sometimes that’s how it goes in this league, but the good news is we get another shot next week.”
Be careful what you wish for, B.J., because the Vikings are 4-0 since suffering a 23-14 loss to the Packers on Dec. 2 at Lambeau and have become a formidable team using an old-school approach of running the ball and dominating the lines of scrimmage.
Sure, the Vikings were the more desperate team Sunday, needing the victory to qualify for the playoffs while the NFC North Division champion Packers were merely playing for a seed. The Vikings will lose that edge in the playoff game because both teams will be desperate, but they have proven in two games that they match up well with the Packers. Green Bay probably would have lost the first meeting had not young Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder thrown two ill-advised interceptions.
The Packers had hoped to bury the Vikings on Sunday because they didn’t want to play a team three times in a month. Instead, they emerged with a bring-on-the-Vikings mentality.
Asked if the Packers were looking forward to the rematch, Raji said, “I think I speak for everybody when I say, ‘Yes.’ Any time you let a tough game like this go, you know it’s going to bring up some bad feelings, but we’ve got to move on and learn from it.”
What the Packers learned is they need to match the Vikings’ intensity from the start. They fell behind 13-0 before they decided to play.
What followed was one of the more entertaining NFL games in this or any season, a back-and-forth affair that could be repeated in six days. Many of the Packers said they want the rematch to start sooner than that.
“Oh, no doubt,” tight end Jermichael Finley said. (We’d play them) in the backyard, if we had to. But we’ve got to come out and jump on them at the beginning. We can’t let them hang around and get three (points) there, six there. We’ve just got to put our foot on their throat ASAP.”
The Packers’ confidence is based on several things. First, the game will be played outdoors in Green Bay. Second, they believe they didn’t play a bad game Sunday, they just started too slowly. And third, they’ve been down this road before, having emerged from the wild card weekend to win the Super Bowl two years ago.
Despite the loss, the Packers locker room was surprisingly upbeat after the game.
“The opportunity to get the bye does not exist anymore, so the playoffs start now,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “We know what the bye looks like, we know what this position looks like, so it’s time to kick it forward to playoff football. It’s as simple as that. We’re disappointed we lost today, but at the end of the day there’s six NFC teams left and we’re going to line up and play at home at Lambeau Field in front of our crowd. That’s what we’re excited about.”
Though the game was a setback for the Packers, it was not a signal that something is terribly amiss. True, the Vikings pass rushers took advantage of their revamped offensive line at times, but that often happens in games at the Metrodome. And, yes, the Packers failed to get a pass rush on Ponder and allowed him to convert too many third-down plays.
If there is a real worry, however, it is that the Packers geared up to stop Peterson and still couldn’t do it. Fortunately, there is only one Peterson in the NFL. Unfortunately, he will be in Green Bay on Saturday.
“It’s important to take away the focal point of any team’s best player and obviously we didn’t do that today,” McCarthy said. “We’ll go back, grade it and get ready to go. I look for us to have a better performance on defense against Adrian Peterson.”
The Packers’ still-promising season depends on it.
“I think he probably might have won the (NFL) MVP today,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said, “and hopefully we can win the playoff game next week.”
Maybe so, but a bye would have been preferable to another date with Peterson and the Vikings.
Contact Tom Oates at firstname.lastname@example.org or 608-252-6172.