Aaron Rodgers stayed hot as the Vikings faded away. (Getty Images)
The Green Bay Packers have been beset by injuries on both sides of the ball all season, and as a result, they've been the NFL s forgotten team when it came to ranking the best and brightest in the Super Bowl hunt. After Saturday night's 24-10 wild-card win over the Minnesota Vikings, it might be time to take the packers a bit more seriously. The Pack showed that when their more important skill players are on the field, they're still a very tough opponent.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers had a mostly healthy receiver corps for a while in the game, and he hit 10 different targets as a result -- everyone from established vets like Greg Jennings, James Jones, and Jordy Nelson, to new contributors like running back DaJuan Harris, who had 100 total yards and a rushing touchdown in a fine overall performance.
Green Bay's defense, the same unit that had given up 409 rushing yards to Minnesota's Adrian Peterson in two previous games this season, limited the likely NFL Most Valuable Player to just 99 yards and no touchdowns on 22 carries. This despite the fact that backup quarterback Joe Webb, who started his first NFL playoff game in place of the injured Christian Ponder, was supposed to provide more of a threat with his mobility.
Webb did run for 68 yards on seven carries, but those numbers were relatively meaningless, because the third-year player out of UAB didn't stand a chance as a pure passer -- he completed just 11 passes in 30 attempts for 160 yards, a late-game touchdown, and an interception. Defensive back Charles Woodson, back in the lineup for the first time since October 21 and fully recovered from a broken collarbone, believes that the best is yet to come for Green Bay's defense.
"The energy level was at an all-time high." Woodson said of the Packers' ability to contain Peterson this time. "This week, like last week, we buzzed around, but this week, we made the tackles. We didn't allow him to get through the line of scrimmage and get yards after contact. We just kept putting the heat on him, and that was the difference.
"We're only going to get better."
Though Green Bay's offense was efficient, it wasn't as explosive as Rodgers would like. He completed 23 of 33 passes for 247 yards and a touchdown, and he seemed somewhat frustrated that his offense couldn't keep the pedal to the floor in the second half.
"I'm not sure yet," Rodgers said when asked how this game might be a springboard to greater things. "Our defense played an a championship level, which you've got to have in the postseason. Offensively, we've got some stuff to work on. We doubled up to make it a three-score game, but we have to help our defense out more. It's a tough test next week back in San Francisco, and we'll be excited about that."
The Packers will now travel to the Bay Area to face the San Francisco 49ers, the team that Rodgers hoped would select him in the 2005 NFL Draft. The 49ers took Alex Smith with the first overall pick instead, and Smith will be on the bench in favor of Colin Kaepernick. Like Webb, Kaepernick presents a real threat with his mobility. Unlike Webb, Kaepernick can tear a defense up with his throwing arm.
"They're different as well," Rodgers said, when asked what kind of different team the 49ers might face in the Packers. "Colin [Kaepernick] has been playing great for them, and they have a great defense. That's a tough challenge for us."
The Packers lost to San Francisco, 30-22, in their season opener. Rodgers had to do it all, throwing 44 passes and leading the team in rushing with just 27 yards. That loss started a season in which Rodgers' team beat the odds at times to find victories when they were needed.
But now, and perhaps for the first time all season, the Packers seem to be up for any challenge.
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