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In the Vikings, Packers Got Perfect Warm-up for Clash with 49ers

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COMMENTARY | Joe Webb is no Christian Ponder, and that's saying something. But it was also the best thing for the Packers and not just because Webb isn't as prolific a passer as Ponder.

No, Minnesota has no excuse for the egg they laid against Green Bay Saturday night at Lambeau Field. The offense was an abomination, they had silly penalties, bad turnovers, and blown assignments. In fact, the Vikings are lucky they didn't get embarrassed by more than the 24-10 final score. For the Packers, it was one of those rare postseason blowouts where the victor didn't play all that well.

When it was announced Ponder couldn't play because of soreness in his throwing arm, a strange thing happened. Both fan bases grew nervous. Ponder was coming off perhaps his best day as a Viking in the Week 17 victory over the Packers and looked to be playing with confidence. Webb hadn't thrown a pass all season and couldn't unseat the inconsistent Ponder as the Minnesota starter.

But for Packers fans, the concern was in the unknown. Webb's athleticism meant he posed problems Ponder didn't. Now, the defense would have to account for read options, designed runs, and a different dimension on boots. In the cold, on a slow track at Lambeau, Webb may have actually been the better fit to give the Vikings a chance.

We saw it on the first drive as the Packers defense had no answer for the Webb/Peterson combination. But then Green Bay scored. And then they scored again.

Suddenly, you could see why Webb hadn't thrown a pass all season: he's not a very good thrower of the football. He has a cannon arm, but he only made a handful of even remotely accurate throws.

Green Bay's defense deserves an enormous amount of credit for playing extremely well. They covered receivers with ease - mainly because the Vikings don't have anyone to throw it - pressured Webb, hit him and sacked him. And most importantly, they contained Adrian Peterson.

Webb became only the fourth quarterback in the Super Bowl era to throw for more than 180 yards and rush for more than 68 yards rushing joining Steve Young, Randall Cunningham, and Donovan McNabb. But plenty of those numbers were in garbage time and a blown coverage allowed Minnesota's one touchdown play.

It was, in an important way, the perfect tune-up for next week's game with San Francisco. With a powerful pass-rush, a running quarterback with a cannon arm and a pulverizing rushing attack, Minnesota is 'San Francisco Lite.'

Green Bay, with Charles Woodson returning from injury, played fundamentally sound, contained Adrian Peterson and were physical at the point of attack. B.J. Raji continues to maul people up front and Erik Walden had one of his best games as a Packer.

With or without Christian Ponder, it was likely Green Bay was going to come out on top. The Packers had lost out on the chance to rest this week, but got a chance to get warmed-up instead - despite the cold temperatures.

The Packers and 49ers were on a collision course no matter who got the bye. It'll be a step up in competition defensively, from Jared Allen and Brian Robison to Aldon Smith and Justin Smith, and offensively, Joe Webb to Colin Kaepernick, but Green Bay got a taste of the game plan Saturday night.

Woodson made a couple nice plays, knifing through blockers to make tackles. Clay Matthews is all the way back from the hamstring injuries which have limited him this season. The defense is healthy and played extremely well, just the confidence boost they needed.

Offensively, Aaron Rodgers had his way with the Vikings until the Packers took their foot off the gas. It's hard for a team that likes to push the tempo to control the clock and play field position. When they wanted to, the offense moved the ball efficiently. The inability to get first downs without being aggressive is a concern that the Packers will address this week.

A quality win, a blowout, against a division opponent in which you didn't play that well on offense. It's the perfect game to get your mind right for what could ultimately be Green Bay's toughest test in the NFC playoffs.

Motivated to get better offensively, and with the defense getting some of its swagger back, is exactly the position you want to be in heading into a clash with the favorites in the conference.

Green Bay couldn't ask for much more than to be where they are, playing the way they are. It didn't hurt to demolish your division rivals to get there.

Peter Bukowski lives in New York and has been covering sports since 2007. He is an award-winning television and newspaper reporter. Follow him on Twitter @BukoTime

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