Here we go… again. The battle of the North will be played later today by two teams that have played some very memorable games in the past. This is the playoffs come early for both teams. Even though neither team can earn a bye, the North and a home game in the playoffs is up for grabs.
Jan 3, 2016 at 11:53p ET
GREEN BAY, Wis.
A smiling Adrian Peterson held the football high in the air as if he had just won a trophy.
The Minnesota Vikings are back atop the NFC North.
Peterson ran for a touchdown, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn returned a fumble 55 yards for a score and the Vikings claimed their first division title since 2009 with a 20-13 victory Sunday night over the Green Bay Packers.
The Vikings will host the wild-card Seattle Seahawks in a playoff game next Sunday. The Packers (10-6) will travel to Washington to play the NFC East champion Redskins, also on Sunday.
“It’s been since 2009 and that’s too long of a stretch,” Peterson said. “That drought is over.”
Perhaps a bit ahead of schedule for the upstart Vikings (11-5), who ended a four-year reign atop the division for the Packers (10-6).
Those new black “NFC North Champs” T-shirts and gray caps that the Vikings proudly wore in the locker room should be hot sellers back in Minnesota this week.
“Coming here, it was always a fight, a dogfight,” Peterson said.
It was his second title of the day — he also finished the season with his third career NFL rushing crown.
Just two years after finishing 5-10-1, Minnesota is back in the playoffs under second-year coach Mike Zimmer.
“Did we get here faster? I don’t know. I have pretty high expectations,” Zimmer said. “I don’t know, maybe.”
That’s a topic that can be dissected in a few months.
For now, the Vikings can savor a win over their longtime rivals on the road, a learning experience if there ever was one.
Lambeau Field in prime time is not an ideal place for any opponent to play.
Yet the Vikings still won in spite of a so-so day for the offense and some harrowing moments late for the defense.
The Vikings knocked away a desperation pass in the end zone from Aaron Rodgers on fourth down as time expired.
Packers kicker Mason Crosby forced a fumble on Cordarrelle Patterson’s potentially field-flipping 70-yard kickoff return with 5:21 left. But the Packers’ next drive ended with Rodgers being intercepted in the end zone by Xavier Rhodes.
“Frankly, we didn’t do enough of the things you need to do, especially in big games, to come out on top,” Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said.
The Vikings got the sterling defensive effort needed on the road to win their first game at Lambeau Field since 2009. Zimmer smiled and raised both arms in the air after Rodgers’ final pass fell incomplete.
A handful of Vikings later came back onto the field to take pictures. They’ll remember this night for a while.
Peterson ran for 67 yards on 19 carries. He gave the Vikings a scare after leaving midway through the third quarter with a lower back injury before returning late in the fourth.
Teddy Bridgewater was just 10 of 19 for 99 yards, and the passing game was rendered largely ineffective. But the defense stifled Green Bay’s dysfunctional offense at nearly every turn until the frantic fourth quarter.
Everson Griffen had two sacks, and the Vikings held on at the end after being left out of breath defending the Packers’ late no-huddle attack.
“It wasn’t fun, to be honest with you. It was nerve-racking,” Zimmer said.
The dormant Packers scored 10 points in the fourth quarter, including a 16-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers to Richard Rodgers, and a 43-yard field goal by Crosby.
But a slow start doomed the Packers once again, as did a sluggish running game.
Aaron Rodgers finished 28 of 44 for 291 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Running back Eddie Lacy had a strong start, but finished with just 34 yards on 13 carries.
Peterson and the Vikings rushed right past them to take the NFC North.
The loss left the Packers without a win over a division opponent at home for the first time since 1968.
This wasn’t the momentum they were looking for headed into the playoffs.
“Yeah, we’ve got to play better. We’ve got to put it all together,” Rodgers said.
From the AP;
Just because the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers have clinched playoff spots and can’t earn a first-round bye doesn’t mean they won’t be desperately trying to finish the regular season with a victory.
The Vikings badly want to win the NFC North and end the four-year reign of the Packers, who may be as interested in showing everyone they can be a legitimate threat in the playoffs by putting forth a strong all-around performance.
They’ve rarely had one in recent weeks but did put one together six weeks ago to beat Minnesota, a team which would love to make Sunday night’s matchup the time to finally end its victory drought in Green Bay.
”I kind of figured that the last game would always mean something with the Packers,” Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said.
This game closes the NFL regular season, and all the others that take place earlier don’t really mean much to the Packers or Vikings. Bottom line, the winner claims the division crown and the No. 3 seed in the NFC playoffs. The loser will be the No. 5 seed unless Seattle defeats Arizona on Sunday and Minnesota loses to fall to No. 6, forcing a trip back to Lambeau next week to begin the playoffs.
“We can’t let the game become too big,” said quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who will make his first start at Lambeau. “We know that we’re playing for a lot right now. But at the same time, we just have to go out there and be ourselves. You don’t have to do anything extra, put any ‘S’s on our chest or capes on our back. Just have to do our job and do our job well.”
The Vikings have been doing a much better job than the Packers lately even though both enter with 10-5 records. Minnesota has routed Chicago and the New York Giants by a combined 53 points after nearly winning at Arizona, losing 23-20 on a late field goal to the NFC West champions.
Green Bay was no match for the Cardinals last week in a 38-8 loss, committing four turnovers and getting held to 178 total yards.
”We played the worst we can possibly play, and we’re on to Minnesota,” receiver James Jones said.
The once-vaunted Packers offense continues to look a bit off.
Aaron Rodgers is playing behind a battered offensive line and was sacked eight times last week, having two fumbles returned for touchdowns. He’s been sacked an NFL-high 30 times since Week 8 as the Packers have gone 4-5, posting an 82.0 passer rating after having a 115.9 mark during their 6-0 start.
Rodgers has topped 220 yards passing once in the past six games.
”We are professionals. We have to hold ourselves to a higher standard and play better,” Rodgers said. “Everybody has to play better.”
His season-worst completion percentage of 47.1 (16 of 34) came at Minnesota in Week 11, but he threw TD passes to Jones and Randall Cobb as the Packers rolled to a 30-13 win. Bridgewater was sacked six times and Adrian Peterson was held to 45 yards on 13 carries.
”I’m going to talk to them about the things we didn’t do good in the last ballgame (against Green Bay), and the things we have to improve on in order to win,” coach Mike Zimmer said.
The Vikings are 1-10-1 in the past 12 meetings, including a playoff loss after the 2012 season. Including that game, Minnesota is 0-5-1 at Lambeau since last winning there in 2009 – when Brett Favre quarterbacked the Vikings.
That’s also the last year in which Minnesota won the North.
“A team we haven’t beaten in the two years that I’ve been here, that coach Zimmer’s been here,” Bridgewater said. “It’s a team that’s capable of getting hot at this time of year.”
Green Bay’s defense hasn’t been, allowing more than 370 total yards to both Oakland and Arizona. That unit has yielded 100-plus yards rushing in five straight games and now faces Peterson, who is 64 yards ahead of Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin in the race for his third rushing title.
”I have faith in the football team regardless of what happened (in Arizona),” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.
Cobb has hardly been a factor in the past four weeks, totaling 165 receiving yards without a touchdown, and the run game has been inconsistent. Eddie Lacy rushed for 100 yards at Minnesota and topped that mark in two of the next three games but has only 83 over the last two.
”It takes all 11 to have success. It starts from a protection unit, to a route-running detail, to catching the football. It’s everyone, coaches included,” offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said.
Rodgers has won 10 of 11 against the Vikings regardless of location or playoffs with a 120.1 passer rating, throwing for 28 touchdowns and three interceptions. Lacy has rushed for 534 yards and five TDs in five career meetings.
The Vikings have won eight straight when Peterson rushes for 100 yards, a streak that dates back to a 26-26 tie at Lambeau on Nov. 24, 2013 – a game Rodgers missed.
Will be updated later…