Imagine if I told you the Packers would turn the ball over three times in the first half and Aaron Rodgers wouldn’t throw a touchdown pass all night. And then imagine that the Pack would win the game by two touchdowns. Gotta love the NFL. And you gotta love sweeping the Vikings and claiming the NFC North title in prime time at US Bank Stadium.
In what will go down as the most satisfying Packers win in Minneapolis in recent memory, we can continue to dream about earning the top seed in the NFC playoffs for the rest of this suddenly even more joyful holiday week.
But what an excruciating start to the night. When Aaron Jones put the ball on the ground on the game’s third play and Eric Kendricks returned the fumble to inside the ten yard line, it looked like the tone was being set for another disappointing night at US Bank. But when the Packers’ D forced a three and out and the Vikes had to settle for a field goal, the crisis appeared to be averted.
It was a strange first half, in that the Packers failed to reach the end zone and take a big early lead, and instead handed the ball to the Vikings three times gifting them ten first half points. But holding them to just ten gave us hope that it was still anyone’s game and if Green Bay could protect the ball in the second half they’d have a chance to spring the upset. The Philly Special play call on third down following the third turnover was a gift from the gods and when they followed it up on fourth down on a low percentage deep shot on fourth down, it felt like the Vikings just didn’t have the juice to step on the Pack’s throats.
Yes, the Purple’s offense was inept. The gameplan seemed to be ‘business as usual’ no matter which running back is back there. As the Pack continues to stuff Mike Boone and put Kirk Cousins in long third down situations, that left the incomparable Za’Darius Smith free to wreak carnage on the offensive line. Minnesota had no answer for the Pack’s best player in 2019. His dominance on this night, along with the rest of the front seven, was the difference in this game. Minnesota had no answers: their ineptitude on offense was historic. Just seven first downs, 139 yards of total offense, 2.6 yards per play, eight of 13 drives went three and out and their longest drive went for 31 yards. Man, that was fun to watch.
On the other side of the ball, it was more of the same. The passing game continues to sputter along, getting very little production from anyone not named Davante Adams. Yes, Allen Lazard caught five balls and converted three third downs, but there wasn’t much happening with anyone else. Fortunately, Matt LaFleur didn’t abandon the run game, allowing Jones to take over in the second half as he recorded a career night in rushing yards and showed once again what a dynamic back he is–a threat to take it to the house whenever he gets his hands on it. His 19 TDs lead the NFL and with Jamaal Williams banging up his shoulder, the Pack will need him to continue to carry the load the rest of the way.
After the game, LaFleur announced that the team would get Christmas off, which had them celebrating even more than when they put on their North champions shirts and hats and they’ve definitely earned the day off to spend with their families. They will need to quickly refocus and turn their attention to the Lions on Thursday. Yeah, they’re a three win outfit, but they’re still playing hard and still smarting from the Monday night loss in Lambeau that derailed their season. They’d like nothing more than shocking the Pack and dropping them to the three seed and another date with the Vikings on wildcard weekend.
But a win on Sunday guarantees a bye for the Pack and a chance at the top seed, if the Seahawks can beat the 49ers on Sunday night. With that much on the line, it’s hard to believe Green Bay won’t be ready to take care of business. A loss would mean the road the Packers would take would start with the Vikings at home and then a likely trip to New Orleans. Yikes. A win guarantees a game at Lambeau in the divisional round.
After two disappointing years where first Rodgers was lost for the season and then the bottom fell out of the Mike McCarthy era, 2019 has become that rare unexpected rise to the top. By next Sunday night, we’ll know what the road to the top will look like.
For now, we all get to enjoy this festive holiday week, and we won’t have to listen to our Viking fan friends or family members chirping at us. That may be the greatest gift of all.