In the first outdoor clash in Minnesota between the Packers and Vikings since 1981, it seems appropriate the Packers powered their way to a 24-21 victory behind the legs of running back Eddie Lacy.
Green Bay needed all 60 minutes to put away the pesky Vikings on Sunday, yet there was never a point where they didn’t seem in control of the game. Nonetheless, the Vikings had plenty of opportunities for big plays, particularly in the passing game, but quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was off target with several of his throws. A veteran quarterback would’ve connected on some of them, so this could be a wake-up call for a defense that is currently getting ready for Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.
Penalties were also disconcerting, as the Packers had seven of them for 75 yards. Still, for the first time all season, the Pack stand alone atop the NFC North with an 8-3 record.
Thanksgiving week is when teams hope to begin to hit their strides. Now is the time for the great ones to separate from the herd.
We’ll find out how great Green Bay is next weekend, as the 9-2 Patriots come to Lambeau.
Great teams know how to finish, and the Packers finished this one off with an 11-play, 87-yard touchdown drive that took up nearly half of the fourth quarter. The drive ended when quarterback Aaron Rodgers shuffled the ball to Lacy, who rumbled his way across the end zone.
Stud of the Game
This was Lacy’s game to win. The Packers came out intending to run the ball, and they stuck with it through the game's duration. His 25 carries and 125 yards were both season highs. He also added 13 yards receiving, and scored two touchdowns. More important, he sealed the Vikings' fate on the final drive by carrying the ball on five consecutive plays to kill the clock.
Play of the Game
Lacy’s fourth-quarter touchdown may never have happened if Rodgers and receiver Jordy Nelson didn’t convert a key third down midway through the drive. The Vikings -- especially cornerback Xavier Rhodes -- did a fine job of covering Nelson all game long, but Nelson made them pay on this crucial play. On third-and-2, Nelson beat cornerback Josh Robinson inside, giving Rodgers a huge window to throw the ball into. The play isn’t spectacular, but it shows that the little things matter. Many quarterbacks force their No. 1 receivers the ball, but Rodgers doesn’t. He’s an assassin on the field, who waits patiently for an opportunity to strike. The Vikings finally gave him one by not matching Rhodes up with Nelson on this play, and the Packers’ top duo made them pay for it.
There have been many tough hills to climb this season for the Pack, but the New England game has lingered in the background, like a mountain casting a shadow.
Last week, I wrote about Green Bay re-establishing their home-field advantage, so the Packers should have an advantage in Lambeau. Yet, the Patriots are the most respected franchise around the league. Bill Belichick is the reason why, and I worry about him out coaching Mike McCarthy in this matchup.
The key for the Packers is to be themselves. Don’t shy away from Randall Cobb because Darrelle Revis is covering him, and don’t ignore Nelson because Brandon Browner is getting physical. McCarthy should trust his players to challenge New England‘s secondary.
The game will have a playoff atmosphere, as the media hypes it as a Super Bowl preview.
As usual, I say don’t bet against No. 12.
I just don’t know which No. 12 I’m talking about this week.
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