For the first time since the 2010 season, a team other than the Green Bay Packers has ended the regular season as NFC North champions.
The Minnesota Vikings took home the division crown after withstanding a late Packers’ comeback and defeating Green Bay 20-13 at Lambeau Field. The win gave the Vikings the NFC’s number three seed, and they will host the Seattle Seahawks in the wild card round. Meanwhile the Packers travel to Washington D.C. to take on the Redskins next Sunday.
Once again, it was the offense that failed to find any form of consistency for the majority of the game. The defense limited the Vikings to just 242 yards, 20 points, and forced two timely turnovers.
But the offense failed to capitalize on yet another strong defensive effort, and it resulted in the Packers being swept by divisional opponents at home for the first time since 1968.
Green Bay held an 11 minute advantage in time of possession (35:42-24:18) and outgained the Vikings 350-242 in the game. After putting together a field goal drive of 15 plays and 70 yards to start the game, the Packers were unable to sustain drives until late in the fourth quarter. Green Bay converted just two of their 15 third downs.
The first half featured little offense from either team. The two teams exchanged field goals on their opening possessions, and the Vikings tacked on another late in the first half to give Minnesota a 6-3 halftime lead. After Green Bay went three-and-out to open the second half, the Vikings used a steady rushing attack to drive down the field and capped off their first possession of the second half with an Adrian Peterson touchdown run.
On Minnesota’s next possession, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater attempted an ill-advised, left-handed pass which Micah Hyde made a back-handed, one-handed interception on that could have changed the momentum of the game. But on the Packers’ ensuing drive, Aaron Rodgers fumbled the ball on a sack which the Vikings returned for a touchdown and a 20-3 lead.
Down 17, the Packers began their comeback attempt. Rodgers led Green Bay on another lengthy drive that spanned 14 plays and 80 yards, and found tight end Richard Rodgers for the Packers’ only touchdown of the day. Minnesota quickly punted on their next drive, and the Packers tacked on a field goal to bring the game to within one possession.
Following Mason Crosby’s second field goal of the night, Minnesota kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson looked like he was about to put the game away after returning the kickoff 70 yards. But Crosby forced a fumble on the return, which the Packers recovered, to give Green Bay another chance to draw even.
The Packers marched down to the red zone, but Rodgers was picked off in the end zone by cornerback Xavier Rhodes. The Green Bay defense forced another three-and-out by Minnesota to give the Packers’ offense one final chance, but a game-tying Hail Mary attempt was batted down to seal a Vikings’ win.
Rodgers finished the game completing 28/44 passes for 291 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. After being sacked eight times a week ago against Arizona, the Vikings brought Rodgers down five more times Sunday, one of which resulted in the costly fumble return.
The Packers’ rushing attack was ineffective, managing just 76 yards on 26 carries for an average of 2.9 yards per touch. Eddie Lacy, who has averaged over 100 yards per game against the Vikings in his career, was held to just 34 yards on 13 carries.
James Jones caught four balls (on 13 targets) for 102 yards, while Richard Rodgers led the team with seven receptions. Randall Cobb continued to have only a minor impact, tallying six catches for 37 yards in the game.
Meanwhile, it was the Minnesota defense and rushing attack that lifted the Vikings to the NFC North Championship. Bridgewater completed just 10/19 passes for 99 yards and an interception, but the Vikings backfield, led by Peterson’s 67 yards, ran for 151 on the ground.
While the Packers watched their streak of four straight division titles come to an end, their season is not over. Green Bay will need to be significantly better on offense and will likely have to continue to ride their defense if they are going to have success in the playoffs. It is highly improbable that the offense regains its pre-2015 form, but at the very least Aaron Rodgers’ unit must be able to string together four quarters of more efficient play.
While they are no longer expected to win the Super Bowl like they were before the season began, the Packers still have the ability to make some noise in the playoffs.
If the Packers are going to make a now-improbable push for the NFL title, it will simply have to come from a wild card spot. The last time the Packers took a 10-6 record into the playoffs as a wild card was 2010. While it may take a fair bit of luck to end the season the same way they did five years ago, such aspirations are not impossible.
It’s win-or-go-home time for the Packers, and for the first time in five years Green Bay enters the playoffs without an NFC North title under their belts.——————
Sean Blashe is a Packers fan who grew up in Bears territory and is currently a journalism and history major at Marquette University. Sean is a writer with PackersTalk.com and you can follow him on twitter at @SeanBlashe .