TDs by Harris, Kuhn put Packers up 24-3 on Vikes

DuJuan Harris and John Kuhn had short touchdown runs, Kuhn

caught a scoring pass from Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers

took a 24-3 lead over the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday night into

the fourth quarter in their NFC wild-card playoff game.

Christian Ponder was inactive for the Vikings because of a right

elbow injury so Joe Webb started at quarterback for the first time

all season, and Rodgers made the passing gap between the two teams

even wider. Rodgers went 19 for 26 for 260 yards and no turnovers,

leading touchdown drives of 82, 62 and 80 yards.

With Adrian Peterson being boxed in by a fired-up Packers

defense that he gashed for 409 yards rushing over the previous two

meetings this season, Webb had to go to work in his first start of

the season.

The results weren’t pretty. Webb tripped over Clay Matthews to

give the Packers star an easy sack early in the second quarter, and

he was called for intentional grounding while being swarmed behind

the line of scrimmage on the next play.

Webb ran five times for 60 yards, but he completed only seven of

his first 20 attempts for a measly 61 yards. Peterson gained 69

yards on 19 carries.

Rodgers didn’t let up after halftime. The Vikings had the

Packers stopped for a field goal on fourth-and-4, but Jasper

Brinkley was called for 12 men on the field when he couldn’t make

it to the sideline in time, and the penalty gave the Packers just

enough yards to keep going. Rodgers found Kuhn open on the next

play, and the fullback barged into the end zone by barreling over

Jamarca Sanford at the goal line for a 24-3 lead.

The last time the Vikings were in a playoff game, they

infamously were called for 12 men on the field, too, on offense

that time in the fourth quarter of the NFC championship game in New

Orleans to push them out of field-goal range. Brett Favre threw an

interception, and they lost to the Saints in overtime.

The Vikings finally made it across midfield again on the next

possession, but on fourth-and-3 at the 38, Matthews took down Webb

for another sack, forced the ball out and recovered it. After a

Packers punt, Webb scrambled for a first down at the Green Bay 46.

But on the next play, his long pass was intercepted by Sam Shields

at the 8.

After the Vikings forced another punt early in the fourth

quarter, Marcus Sherels fumbled, and the Packers recovered at the

Minnesota 39.

Rodgers, who entered the game with the NFL’s best postseason

passer rating in history at 105.5 after seven previous playoff

appearances, was in prime form. After a fourth straight punt by the

Vikings, Rodgers got the Packers from their 38-yard line to the

Minnesota 3 in three plays. He rolled right and threw a zinger to

Jordy Nelson in the final minute of the first half to set up Kuhn’s

plunge.

On the previous drive, Rodgers found Greg Jennings open on

fourth-and-5, and Jennings spun around Chris Cook to sprint up the

sideline and reach the Vikings 2. Mason Crosby’s field goal pushed

the lead to 10-3.

Rodgers went 4 for 4 on the first scoring drive for the Packers,

who used their hurry-up, no-huddle scheme they weren’t able to make

work in the noisy Metrodome last Sunday. The Vikings won that game

37-34 to force the rematch, the third time these border rivals have

met in a five-week span.

The Vikings used a 33-yard field goal by rookie Blair Walsh on

the opening possession to get in front early. Webb ran for 17 yards

on third-and-3 to keep the drive alive, but his underthrow to

Michael Jenkins bounced well short on third down to set up the

kick.

Rodgers had his top four receivers healthy together for the

first time since September, with Jennings, Nelson, Randall Cobb and

James Jones all set to go against a Vikings secondary that had

trouble keeping up in their game last week after veteran cornerback

Antoine Winfield left with a broken right hand. Winfield returned

for this one, but his ability to play his usual physical style was

in question.

Rodgers focused more on his running backs early. Harris caught

two passes for 28 yards and Ryan Grant had a 16-yard reception to

put the Packers in position to take the lead. The on-field ruling

on the scoring run by Harris was that he was down at the 1, but

Packers coach Mike McCarthy challenged the play, and the call was

reversed.

For Rodgers, this game was another benchmark in his stellar

career. Despite leading the Packers to a Super Bowl championship

after the 2010 season, he had yet to win a playoff game at Lambeau

Field. After rolling through the regular season at 15-1 in 2011,

the Packers were upset here in their first postseason game by the

eventual champion New York Giants. But Rodgers, despite all the

injuries to his receivers this year, posted the NFL’s best passer

rating for the second year in a row.

Webb became the first quarterback in 20 years to start a playoff

game without starting any games during that regular season since

Frank Reich did so for Buffalo, according to STATS. Reich led the

Bills to their famous comeback victory over Houston that year.

These teams squared off for the second time in seven days, so

there wasn’t much either side could do to surprise the other –

except, perhaps, make a quarterback switch just before the

game.

After preparing all week for Ponder, whose second-year struggles

peaked in a loss here on Dec. 2 when he threw two interceptions

inside the Green Bay 20-yard line, the Packers defense suddenly

faced a totally different player in Webb.

The 6-foot-4, 220-pound sixth-round draft pick in 2010 was

athletic enough to play some wide receiver at Alabama-Birmingham

and even take a few turns there with the Vikings last year before

becoming a full-time quarterback this season as the backup to

Ponder.

Webb had three starts over his first two NFL seasons, the first

coming at Philadelphia on Dec. 28, 2010. The Vikings beat the

playoff-bound Eagles that night 24-14, and Webb passed for 195

yards and ran for a touchdown.

Ponder was hurt last Sunday when Packers safety Morgan Burnett

delivered a jarring hit on a blitz, but he finished the game with a

career-high 120.2 passer rating and three touchdowns in the 37-34

win. His elbow just didn’t improve enough during the week, however,

for the Vikings to put him in.

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