GREEN BAY – The Green Bay Packers had one of those rare playoff wins that can be fairly referred to as perfunctory on Saturday against Minnesota.
It goes without saying that next one will be anything but mundane.
The Packers put away the essentially quarterback-less Vikings 24-10 with little challenge in the first round of the NFC playoffs at Lambeau Field. The victory sets up a rematch of a season-opening loss to the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park on Saturday night. The mere thought of that game had quarterback Aaron Rodgers revved up within an hour after the clock had stopped on the remarkable season of Minnesota and running back Adrian Peterson.
"They are the rare team that can get pressure and cover," Rodgers said of the 49ers as he stood in front of his locker.
"They can generate pressure with four guys and still take stuff away. Most teams have to sacrifice something in that situation. Most teams, they either rush four and drop into a zone or they blitz and play a lot of man."
When asked if that made San Francisco, which limited Green Bay to 45 yards rushing on the way to a 30-22 win in September, the toughest defense the Packers have faced since the start of 2010 (the season the Packers won the Super Bowl over Pittsburgh), Rodgers' eyebrows arched with dutiful respect.
"I think it's fair to say that they and Seattle have set the standard over the second half this season," said Rodgers, whose Packers lost to both teams during the regular season. The controversial loss at Seattle still gnaws at the Packers because it's a big reason why they have to go on the road now. "You look at those two and you know it's a challenge."
It's the kind of challenge that can go a long way toward determining a champion. While many might disagree, the Green Bay-San Francisco game could be the best undercard to the Super Bowl, particularly if the Packers and Rodgers survive it. If the Packers win, they would most likely have to go through Atlanta to get to the Super Bowl. Based on how Green Bay overwhelmed the Falcons in the 2010 playoffs, that game could be much less stressful than the matchup with the 49ers.
Of course, that's getting ahead of things a bit. For now, Rodgers and Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy are going to have to figure out how they attack San Francisco. Do they attempt some semi-conventional strategy, such as trying to run the ball with DuJuan Harris and throw short passes to slow down the 49ers' front seven?
Or do the Packers go for broke and let Rodgers run a no-huddle attack, giving him the chance to wear down the San Francisco pass rush, even though Rodgers and his receivers still aren't completely in synch after some injuries? In back-to-back games against the Vikings, for instance, Rodgers and Jordy Nelson have had plays where they clearly didn't know what each other was trying to do, resulting in ugly incomplete passes.
"That stuff happens, but it's also the type of stuff that can send you home this time of the year," Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings said.
Regardless what the Packers decide to do, it'll be a far tougher situation than what took place in Green Bay on Saturday. Minnesota was forced to scratch Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder from what would've been his first career playoff start due to a nasty bruise that went from his upper arm to his forearm.
The injury was so bad that Ponder could do little more than lob warm-up passes before the game. That left the start to backup Joe Webb, a guy who had taken all of three snaps this season and hadn't thrown a pass on any of those plays. Webb became the first quarterback in NFL history to start a playoff game without throwing a pass in the regular season, and the results showed.
[Also: Jared Allen's alma mater? Apparently, the Culinary Academy]
The Packers basically took away the Minnesota running game with a standard eight-man front. Green Bay played that formation on 19 of the first 24 Minnesota snaps, bottling up Peterson until the Packers built a 17-3 lead. They played mostly prevent after that. Unlike the previous two games against the Vikings, when Peterson ran for a combined 409 yards, the Packers loaded up against him (he finished with 99 yards rushing) and essentially dared Webb to do anything.
Webb wasn't up to the challenge. He completed 11 of 30 passes for 180 yards, one touchdown, one interception and one lost fumble. The lone Vikings touchdown came with 3:39 left in the game, at which time the outcome was a foregone conclusion. Most of his throws were so off-target it was laughable. There were times when Webb simply looked lost, such as a pair of ill-advised throwaway passes that were nearly intercepted and another time when he was "sacked" by Clay Matthews after the linebacker had already fallen to the ground.
"I've never had that happen, but I'll take it," Matthews said, chuckling.
Even worse, Webb was incapable of changing plays before the snap, even after the Packers essentially declared what they were going to do time after time by walking one of their safeties toward the line of scrimmage.
That made this game far more one-sided than the score indicated. The Vikings were little more than cheese curds going up against a deep fryer (a local delicacy in this part of the country).
Battered, fried and eaten.
The chances of that happening to the 49ers in San Francisco aren't great. In the season opener, San Francisco jumped to a 23-7 lead on the strength of a balanced attack that featured 186 yards rushing and former starter Alex Smith going 20 of 26 for 211 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Rodgers did have his moments against the 49ers, completing 30 of 44 passes for 303 yards, two TD passes and one interception. But as the glow of victory over the Vikings subsided quickly, most of the Packers said that asking Rodgers to do so much might not be the best plan.
"San Francisco has the best front seven in the league," guard T.J. Lang said. "We can't put so much on one guy, even a guy like Aaron, and expect to come out of there with a win. San Francisco manhandled us last time and we have to figure that out."
That's no easy task.
"They're physical and they're quick," Jennings said of the 49ers defense. "You can't run misdirection against them that much because their linebackers are so fast, and you can't just overpower them because they're so strong. We're going to have to be incredibly sharp with what we do."
Perfunctory just won't cut it.
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