GREEN BAY, Wis. — The Packers were confident they were going to stop Adrian Peterson in Saturday’s playoff rematch with the Minnesota Vikings. Based on the results of the two regular-season games against the NFL’s best running back, that seemed like a long shot.
But, with improved tackling and better gap control, the Packers held Peterson — who had 409 rushing yards combined in the teams’ first two meetings — to 99 yards in a 24-10 victory over their NFC North rivals.
“You can’t really help what happened in the past,” Green Bay nose tackle B.J. Raji said. “All you can do is take advantage of the moment and the opportunity that you’re presented. We stepped up in a big way and we stopped a great player.”
That was not the case a week earlier when Peterson’s 199 rushing yards almost single-handedly gave the Vikings a spot in the postseason and destroyed Green Bay’s expectation of a first-round bye.
“We were confident because we came back in and watched the film,” cornerback Casey Hayward said. “We knew the errors we made. We knew if we came in and played our right gaps, we knew we could stop him. We knew we had him bottled up a lot last game, but he had a lot of bounces out. So, if we kept him inside and kept him contained we were going to be able to stop him.”
If Peterson is named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player, he should thank Green Bay’s defense. Two of his three biggest games this season came during the month of December, both while running all over the Packers. But the MVP trophy is a regular-season award, and the reason Peterson will watch the rest of the playoffs from home is due to a drastically better performance from the Packers.
“It wasn’t a lack of effort; It was more too much effort,” cornerback Tramon Williams said. “At some point, you have to slow yourself down for AP. A lot of guys try to get to the ball so fast. This guy has such great vision, he can make cuts and make it to the outside before you look at him. A lot of guys kept their gap control today. I think that was the difference. We kept him bottled up.”
All season, Peterson was the focal point of Minnesota’s offense. His role amplified even further when the Vikings were forced to make a pregame switch from injured starting quarterback Christian Ponder to unproven backup Joe Webb.
With Webb running the show, he handed the ball to Peterson six times on the Vikings’ opening drive. Though Peterson didn’t have a breakout run in that series, he totaled 31 yards and helped get Minnesota inside the red zone to set up a short field-goal attempt for an early 3-0 lead.
“He hit us for a few runs the first drive, but then after that, we settled in and we made tackles,” defensive lineman Ryan Pickett said. “We kept him bottled in, didn’t let him pop it out to the corners and get one-on-one with our (defensive backs). We just did a good job of keeping him contained.”
The most important thing that the Packers needed to avoid in this game was allowing Minnesota to get out to an early lead. When the Vikings were up 13-0 in Week 17, they ran Peterson a career-high 34 times.
Green Bay won the coin toss but deferred, and Minnesota did score first in this game. But, as Peterson’s effectiveness faded, so did the Vikings’ lead. By halftime, the Packers were winning, 17-3. and were in control of the game.
Peterson, who had rushed for at least 100 yards in nine of the team’s last 10 regular-season games, wasn’t able to keep the score close after that.
“Adrian is good at bottling up his emotions,” Raji said. “Ultimately, he has to be frustrated. He’s used to having big games, and tonight wasn’t that case for him.”
Of course, this is just what Green Bay’s defense needed after being maligned for not tackling effectively enough. The player who gave them the biggest fits this season was stopped. Consider it a completed objective, one that the Packers can now move forward from and on to a much greater challenge.
That challenge will present itself in the form of a well-rounded San Francisco 49ers offense next Saturday night. After a few performances this season that suggested Green Bay’s defense doesn’t play physically, including a Week 1 loss to the 49ers, stopping Peterson will be a confidence booster.
“I knew if we had the opportunity that we had it within us,” Rajij said. “We just had to prove it and show everybody that we could do it.”