The Green Bay Packers did everything they could to avoid Saturday night’s rematch with the Minnesota Vikings, though they couldn’t overcome Adrian Peterson’s determination to push his team into the playoffs.
While Green Bay may not be able to stop another stellar performance from Peterson during this NFC wild-card matchup, it has proved throughout Peterson’s career that his numbers at Lambeau Field often don’t factor into the outcome.
The NFC North champion Packers (11-5) needed a Week 17 road victory over the Vikings (10-6) to earn the conference’s No. 2 seed and a first-round bye, but Peterson’s 199 yards on a franchise-record 34 carries and two total touchdowns helped lead Minnesota to a 37-34 victory that gave it the No. 6 seed.
Peterson’s 26-yard run set up Blair Walsh’s 29-yard field goal as time expired to ensure this week’s rematch.
“We’re in the playoffs now, so you play who you are seeded against,” said Aaron Rodgers who has completed 74.7 percent of his passes - throwing 16 TDs and just one interception - in his last five games against Minnesota for a 132.5 passer rating. “The road got a little tougher having to play on opening weekend, but we’ve got a home game and that’s why you win the division.”
“You get to go back home and the game will be a different type of game. They won’t have the home-crowd advantage and hopefully that will make a difference.”
That has seemed to make a big difference against Peterson and the Vikings in recent years. The Packers have won five of the six meetings at Lambeau Field in Peterson’s career despite the four-time All-Pro running for an average of 106.2 yards and five touchdowns in those contests.
Minnesota is 0-3 there when Peterson tops 100 yards.
His 82-yard TD and 210 rushing yards weren’t enough Dec. 2 as Green Bay earned a 23-14 victory. Peterson has rushed for at least 175 yards four times in 12 career games versus the Packers.
“We’re very confident. We know the type of environment it’s going to be,” said Peterson, who became the seventh player in NFL history to rush for at least 2,000 yards while finishing nine short of breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season mark of 2,105. “I feel like we’re peaking at the right time.”
Minnesota capped the regular season with four straight victories following its loss to the Packers, when it gave up 435 total yards - its second-most all season.
“We talked about what we felt like after the (Dec. 2) game. It was a tough day for us up there at Lambeau,” coach Leslie Frazier said. “Our players stuck together like I hadn’t seen before, and I knew that was a good omen going forward.
“We’re playing more like a team than at any point in our season.”
Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy isn’t dwelling on last week’s defeat, which ended a five-game winning streak versus the Vikings.
“This is playoff football, and really, yes, we had every intention of winning the game in Minnesota. It didn’t work,” McCarthy said. “I’m not just fluffing it by, but you have to, because the door is open for the playoffs to begin.
“It’s the playoffs. It doesn’t matter who we play, where we play them. We feel confident that we’re going to get it done and do whatever we need to get it done.”
The Packers hope to get a boost from the return of safety Charles Woodson who has been cleared to play after missing the last nine games with a broken collarbone. Leading receiver and return man Randall Cobb also has been practicing this week after sitting out against the Vikings with an ankle injury, while fellow wideout Jordy Nelson returned to practice Wednesday after missing part of Sunday’s game with a knee injury.
While Green Bay could certainly use Cobb and Nelson, it’s Woodson’s return that has McCarthy particularly excited.
“I mean, just what he’s meant to our defense, his playmaking ability, his ability to make plays at the line of scrimmage,” McCarthy said. “He’s extremely productive, so I’m just glad to have him back on the field.”
Woodson and the rest of the Packers’ defense hope to do a better job of limiting Christian Ponder who threw for 234 yards and a season-best three touchdowns last week.
Ponder had completed only 45.1 percent of his passes for three touchdowns and five interceptions while losing his first three starts versus the Packers, but he had a 95.5 rating while not throwing an INT in Minnesota’s final three contests.
“The plays he made, that’s what you need to be able to do at that position to win a championship,” Frazier said. “We were really able to open the playbook up. He did what you want to see your quarterback do in big ballgames. He played at a high, high level for us.”
Rodgers didn’t throw a pick while tossing 10 touchdown passes over Green Bay’s last four games, throwing for a season-high 365 yards against a Vikings defense that ranked 24th in the league against the pass (244.3 yards per game).
Minnesota, though, finished with five sacks of Rodgers, who ended up being taken down a career-most and NFL-worst 51 times.
The only playoff meeting between these teams came when the Vikings earned a 31-17 wild-card victory in Green Bay following the 2004 season.
The Packers, who were 13-0 in postseason home games through the 2001 season, have lost four of their last six playoff contests at Lambeau.
“Bring them on,” Packers cornerback Tramon Williams said of the Vikings. “Obviously, they have to go to Lambeau and hopefully we can go out and put together a better performance than we did (last week).”