The Minnesota Vikings entered Sunday’s game at Green Bay feeling they still had a chance at the playoffs. Some outsiders, including many fans, would prefer Minnesota to lose and improve its draft positioning.
Well, neither side really got their wish on Sunday.
The Vikings went to Lambeau Field and tied the Green Bay Packers, 26-26. Yes, a tie. All the appropriate “kissing your sister” and bittersweet references apply in the tie. Sunday was the first tie in Minnesota team history since 1978.
Here’s five storylines from the first tie in the NFL since Nov. 11, 2012:
1. The late-game defense stands, kind of
At 8 minutes, 29 seconds of the third quarter, Green Bay had 167 yards of offense behind quarterback Scott Tolzien. Tolzien was 7 of 15 for 98 yards passing and was sacked twice and the Vikings led 20-7. Enter Matt Flynn and Minnesota looked primed to suffer another late-game collapse. Flynn entered and was 21 of 36 for 218 yards passing and led four scoring drives to overcome the 16-point defense.
The Vikings did hold Flynn and the Packers to a field-goal at the end of regulation to force overtime instead of Green Bay scoring a touchdown to win. The Packers did drive for a field goal in the opening drive of overtime, but was aided by a dubious defensive holding call on Robert Blanton. In holding Green Bay to another field goal, Minnesota had a chance to get the tying field goal.
The Vikings also started to stop the Flynn momentum. After Flynn was 15 of 22 for 123 yards in the third and fourth quarter, he was 6-of-14 passing for 95 yards in overtime. Flynn also missed on three of his last four passes.
2. Return of the run game
Adrian Peterson was coming off a performance at Seattle in which he only had 3.1 yards per carry and was still dealing with a groin injury. He still didn’t look like his usual self, but Minnesota earned the tie because of Peterson and backup Toby Gerhart controlling the game on the ground. The Vikings ran for a season-high 232 rushing yards and led 40:33-34:27 in time of possession.
Peterson got through the line of scrimmage and around the end at times, and evaded a few defenders even though he was bottled up a few times. Peterson had season highs with 32 carries and 146 yards rushing. Gerhart came in and supplied big plays, finishing with 91 yards on just eight carries. Gerhart hit the hole hard, picking up 11.4 yards per carry.
3. Losing grip on Lacy
Green Bay was also controlling the line of scrimmage and doing damage on the ground with rookie running back Eddie Lacy. Missed tackles for Minnesota’s defense were again an issue against the tough-running Lacy. Lacy was rarely brought down by the first defender and often needed several to bring him down.
The Vikings allowed a season-high 196 rushing yards to the Packers. Green Bay ran for 378 yards in the two games against Minnesota this season and two of the three biggest totals the Vikings have allowed this season. Lacy had 25 carries for 110 yards and a touchdown, but was missing at the end, reportedly dealing with an asthma condition in the cold weather.
4. Cole fills the middle
Making the start at middle linebacker for Erin Henderson, Audie Cole was one of the bright spots for Minnesota’s defense. Cole, a seventh-round draft pick last year, led the team with 13 tackles and added a sack, two tackles for loss and three quarterback hits. Cole sacked Tolzien on the first offensive play and later came through with a big hit in overtime forcing Flynn to hurry his pass off the mark.
Cole was released by the Vikings earlier this month after the team was in a roster crunch because of injuries. He returned two days later after clearing waivers and his return paid off Sunday. Rookie Michael Mauti had seemingly passed Cole on the depth chart, but was limited during the week with a knee injury, opening the opportunity for Cole. Henderson missed the game with a personal matter, and coach Leslie Frazier said Friday he expects Henderson to return for next week’s game.
5. Ponder does enough
Christian Ponder will be making another start. Frazier said he sees no reason to make a move again after Ponder started Sunday at Green Bay and was efficient. Ponder was 11 of 14 for 127 yards in the first half. He nearly threw an interception, but it was dropped by the Packers’ defender. But Ponder was turnover free, the key statistic for him in his career.
Ponder finished 21 of 30 (70 percent) for 233 yards and threw a touchdown to Rhett Ellison and will be the starter when Minnesota returns home against Chicago next week. Ponder was sacked six times on Sunday, as the offensive line had an up-and-down day.
Ponder also suffered from at least four critical drops. Rookie Cordarrelle Patterson — who led the team with 11 targets and eight catches — dropped a deep pass from Ponder in the fourth quarter that might have effectively ended the game. Patterson also dropped a pass in the end zone in overtime, but the ball was tipped right before getting to Patterson. Jarius Wright dropped another pass that could have given Minnesota a chance at a late score at the end of regulation. Greg Jennings dropped what would have been a first down in overtime.