Packers find Ponder is Vikings’ weakest link

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Assessing the Packers’ defensive performance in their 23-14 win over the Minnesota Vikings depends greatly on how a team values each statistical category. Allowing 210 rushing yards to Adrian Peterson is about as bad as it gets, but with that production being coupled with only 119 passing yards, while giving up just 14 points and forcing two key interceptions in a victory, players inside Green Bay’s locker room weren’t feeling too bad about the way they played.

“Me, personally, I think that if you limit people in the pass game, you probably will win the game,” cornerback Tramon Williams said. “Obviously some philosophies are different, stop the run, but I think the run isn’t going to hurt you as much as the pass.”

Williams was right, at least on this day. It’s only the third time since 1990 that an NFL running back has rushed for 200-plus yards in a loss. Former New York Jet Thomas Jones had 210 rushing yards in a loss in 2009 and former Miami Dolphin Ricky Williams rushed for 228 yards in defeat in 2002. Since 1960, teams with a 200-yard rusher are now 101-8.

Peterson ran in a touchdown from 82 yards out and also had a 48-yard gain, but it wasn’t enough to help the Vikings beat the Packers at Lambeau Field on Sunday afternoon.

“I haven’t seen a back like him, maybe ever,” Williams said. “Barry Sanders back in the day, but since then, I haven’t seen a back like that. He showed why he’s elite.”

The main reason that Peterson’s huge performance was for naught was Minnesota’s second-year quarterback Christian Ponder. He completed 12 of 25 passes for 119 yards and threw two critical interceptions. As bad as that looks, it’s even worse considering 83 of Ponder’s 119 passing yards came in the final four minutes of the game.

Ponder didn’t complete a single pass for 38 minutes and 46 seconds, spanning from early in the second quarter until late in the fourth quarter.

“Any team, if you can make them be one-dimensional, you’ll be all right,” linebacker A.J. Hawk said. “We never did really end up stopping Adrian, but we found a way. When you get up 10 (points), they can’t sit there and keep pounding the ball.

“It’s a good win for us. It obviously didn’t look good as a defense, but we need to find a way to win games like this, and we did.”

The Vikings were playing without star receiver Percy Harvin due to an ankle injury, but that doesn’t excuse Ponder’s poor play. Nearly every facet of Minnesota’s game Sunday was positive, with the one glaring weakness at quarterback.

“We wanted to make them pass the ball, instead of run the ball,” Williams said. “AP did a good job, as usual, but when it came down to passing the ball, we gave them different looks and stayed in tight coverage. We made that aspect of it hard and we made the plays when we needed to.

“Ponder’s still a young guy. He definitely has the tools, though. He’s still a young guy. He’s going to get it a couple years from now. A couple years from now, you’ll probably see a different quarterback.”

Maybe. But right now, when the Vikings had a chance to beat a division rival and surpass Green Bay in the standings, Ponder was shut down by the Packers.

“We felt like if we could get (Ponder) moving, get some pressure on him, get him moving off his spot like we say, hopefully we could capitalize and get some turnovers,” Hawk said. “It was definitely something that was a goal going into this game to get some pressure on him, try to get him moving around.”

Both of Ponder’s interceptions were picked off by third-year Packers safety Morgan Burnett, including one in the end zone when Minnesota had a chance to take a 21-10 lead early in the third quarter.

“I thought Morgan Burnett’s interception in the end zone was the biggest play of the game,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “I thought our whole sideline changed after that. He gave us the boost. Morgan’s playing very well. He’s made big plays for us throughout the season.”

With another meeting between these two teams set for the regular-season finale on Dec. 30 in Minnesota, the lesson learned by Green Bay’s defense is apparently quite simple: Stopping Peterson isn’t nearly as important as it may seem, as long as Ponder is contained.

“You can’t call it a good day when you’re giving up 200-something in rushing,” Hawk said. “But at the end of the day, all that matters is how many points they score. As a defense, that’s really the only stat that matters to us.”

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