Rodgers shows Vikings what they're missing
By: By Ben Goessling, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Superior Telegram
GREEN BAY -- With 6:18 left Sunday, Dec. 2, and the Green Bay Packers in the middle of an 11-minute drive that would effectively bar the Vikings from a victory, quarterback Aaron Rodgers rolled to his right on third and 12, faked once to tight end Jermichael Finley and slung a 33-yard pass to wide receiver Randall Cobb, who was between Vikings safeties Harrison Smith and Mistral Raymond more than five seconds after the play began.
It was a classic Rodgers throw, delivered just in the nick of time after Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder had thrown his second interception of the day. And while the reigning NFL MVP didn't shred the Vikings like he did in two games against them last year, the third-and-12 throw underscored the vast difference between him and Ponder, which was enough to give the Packers a 23-14 win in a game the Vikings badly needed, could have won and quite possibly will regret.
They fell to 6-6 on a day when Adrian Peterson ran for 210 yards on just 21 carries and helped them take a 14-10 halftime lead with a career-long 82-yard touchdown run. They nearly stretched the lead to 21-10 after Peterson opened the second half with a 46-yard dash. And their Cover-2 defense largely took away the deep balls Rodgers has used to burn them in the past, despite a handful of offside penalties that gave Rodgers the free shots downfield he loves.
But on the quarterback's 29th birthday -- which was significant to the Vikings only in that it moves him a
year closer to retirement -- he helped the Packers to a victory by making the plays Ponder couldn't.
"Any time you have a quarterback that's as smart as he is, that can move as well as he can, he makes a lot of plays for them," defensive end Brian Robison said. "He's a smart quarterback at knowing where the lanes are, where he can step up or escape out."
The late-developing plays accounted for much of the difference between Rodgers, who finished 27 of 35 for 286 yards with a touchdown and interception, and Ponder, who likely will continue to face scrutiny after completing just 12 of 25 passes for 119 yards.
Ponder rolled to his right and hit tight end Kyle Rudolph for a touchdown in traffic in the second quarter, capping a drive in which he went 5 for 5 for 36 yards. But the second-year quarterback didn't complete another pass until late in the fourth quarter, and the first of his two interceptions came on the same kind of throw as his touchdown.
After Peterson's 46-yard run, Ponder rolled right on a second-and-6 play from the Packers' 8-yard line, holding the ball for more than seven seconds before he tried to hit wide receiver Michael Jenkins in the back of the end zone. Packers safety Morgan Burnett made the first of his two interceptions on the play, costing the Vikings a chance to go up by 11 and turn their defensive line loose against the Packers' shaky offensive line.
"The No. 1 rule as a quarterback is to not throw across your body across the middle of the field, especially when it is late in downs, and that is exactly what I did," Ponder said. "I thought it was coming open, and maybe I could have thrown a better ball, but I probably shouldn't have thrown it at all."
Coach Leslie Frazier dismissed the idea of a quarterback change -- "Christian is our quarterback," he said -- and Peterson offered support for Ponder after the game. The Vikings might have no bigger task this season than determining whether Ponder can be a consistent NFL starter, and they won't learn any more about him if he's on the bench.
But their -- and his -- surprising success early this season put the team in a position to contend for a playoff spot now, and that made the opportunity to beat the Packers at Lambeau Field all the more important.
It also made the loss even more costly. The Seattle Seahawks, who beat the Vikings on Nov. 4, effectively moved two games ahead of them for the final NFC wild-card spot after they beat the Chicago Bears to improve to 7-5. The Seahawks have three of their final four games at home, where they haven't lost this season, meaning the Vikings would need to win their last four and hope Seattle loses a home game, in addition to their Dec. 16 road finale in Buffalo.
"I said last week I felt we had to win out to give us the best chance to make the playoffs," Robison said. "Now, without a doubt, we have to win out."
They're in that position partially because of their loss to the Packers, when Rodgers shone in subtle ways and Ponder sank in costly ones.
(c)2012 the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.)/Distributed by MCT Information Services