Packers advance in playoffs with solid play

GREEN BAY, Wis. — The Packers are moving on. The most important part of this game was doing just that, no matter how it happened. In the single-elimination postseason format, Green Bay couldn’t afford to slip up against the division rival Minnesota Vikings. But, aside from an early 3-0 deficit, the Packers were in control throughout the vast majority of the game and advanced to the divisional round of the postseason.

Handing out grades following the Packers’ 24-10 win over the Vikings:

Passing offense: A-minus

Aaron Rodgers wasn’t able to take many shots downfield, but he made nearly all of the right throws. And, when given a few chances, even in tight coverage windows, Rodgers made a couple passes that only an elite quarterback could execute.

Rodgers completed 23 of his 33 attempts for 274 yards with one touchdown pass and no interceptions, finishing with a 104.9 passer rating.

Rodgers’ top targets were wide receiver Greg Jennings and running back DuJuan Harris, each getting the ball thrown their way six times. Harris led the team with five catches, while Jennings led with 61 receiving yards. James Jones caught all four passes thrown to him for 51 yards and Jordy Nelson had three receptions for 51 yards. Fullback John Kuhn caught two passes, including one for a touchdown. In total, 10 Packers players caught passes from Rodgers.

The offensive line’s protection for Rodgers was solid throughout most of the game, with Minnesota picking up three sacks. One of them, however, was a result of Rodgers scrambling to stay alive in an attempt to make a play.

After the way that Rodgers picked apart the Vikings’ defense in the regular-season finale, Minnesota adjusted its defense to prevent big plays for this game. But Rodgers still got the offense flowing, made the right throws and didn’t make any costly mistakes.

Rushing offense: C-plus

Harris continued to show what a terrific find he’s been for the Packers. In his second consecutive week as the offense’s featured running back, Harris ran the ball 17 times for 47 yards. His 2.8 yards per carry average wasn’t very good, but there’s little reason to believe that Alex Green or Ryan Grant would be performing better than him right now.

Harris’ unique mix of speed and power, especially at only 5-foot-8, makes for a type of runner that Green Bay’s offense hasn’t had in quite some time.

Grant ran seven times for seven yards (1.0 average) and wide receiver Randall Cobb lined up in the backfield and took two carries for six yards.

Near the goal line, the Packers tried to jam it in with Kuhn twice on one drive, but it failed. Later, however, Kuhn scored on a 3-yard run.

Rodgers also scrambled twice for 12 yards.

A team total of 76 yards on 31 carries (2.5 average) isn’t a great rushing game, but two touchdowns on the ground and no fumbles helps to somewhat override that poor per-carry average.

Rushing defense: A-minus

Adrian Peterson dominated the Packers in the first two regular-season meetings, but in this game, Green Bay bottled him up well. Peterson rushed for 99 yards on 22 carries (4.5 average), but didn’t score a touchdown and was held to a long run of only 18 yards.

Peterson nearly broke Eric Dickerson’s all-time rushing record, became only the seventh running back in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards and had gained 100-plus yards in nine of his previous 10 games, so the Packers deserve a lot of credit for their performance in this game.

Backup quarterback Joe Webb successfully ran the read-option play a few times and also scrambled when the pocket collapsed, gaining 68 rushing yards on seven runs.

Green Bay believed that it would win this game if Peterson could be stopped. It seemed unlikely that it could be done, but B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson and many others stepped up and made it happen.

Passing defense: A-minus

Just hours before the game, starting quarterback Christian Ponder was ruled inactive due to a tricep injury that made it difficult for him to throw the ball. Ponder is far from an elite NFL quarterback, but in comparison to the way Webb performed, the Vikings really missed him.

Webb completed only 11 of his 30 passing attempts for 180 yards with one touchdown pass and one interception, finishing with a passer rating of 54.9.

When pressure came and Webb was unable to escape with his feet, he tried some errant passes that seemed like the type of decisions a low-level college quarterback would make. He was inserted into a very difficult position, being asked to start a playoff game when he hadn’t thrown a pass all season. But the Packers made Webb look even more inexperienced than he was and, for the most part, took away Minnesota’s entire passing game.

Wide receiver Michael Jenkins had a 50-yard touchdown pass late in the game, but the outcome was decided at that point.

Cornerback Sam Shields had an interception, Matthews had two sacks (including one in which Webb simply tripped over him) and outside linebacker Erik Walden had one sack.

Special teams: B-plus

The most notable aspect of Green Bay’s special teams was Jeremy Ross returning kickoffs. Randall Cobb still returned punts, but it appears the Packers are slowly working their way toward Ross becoming the full-time returner. Neither player had a breakout return in this game.

Green Bay did recover a muffed punt, but that was mostly an unforced error.

Mason Crosby made his only field-goal attempt, a 20-yarder in the second quarter.

Overall: A-minus

The Packers did exactly what they were supposed to do, winning at home over an inferior opponent that was playing with its inexperienced backup quarterback.

It wasn’t as preferable as having a bye, but Green Bay paid off its division championship by soundly defeating the Vikings at Lambeau Field and advancing in the playoffs.

The challenge now is a trip out to San Francisco where the Packers will meet the 49ers for a chance to play in the NFC Championship Game.

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