DuJuan Harris and John Kuhn had short touchdown runs, Kuhn caught a scoring pass from Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers took a 24-3 lead over the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday night into the fourth quarter in their NFC wild-card playoff game.
Christian Ponder was inactive for the Vikings because of a right elbow injury so Joe Webb started at quarterback for the first time all season, and Rodgers made the passing gap between the two teams even wider. Rodgers went 19 for 26 for 260 yards and no turnovers, leading touchdown drives of 82, 62 and 80 yards.
With Adrian Peterson being boxed in by a fired-up Packers defense that he gashed for 409 yards rushing over the previous two meetings this season, Webb had to go to work in his first start of the season.
The results weren't pretty. Webb tripped over Clay Matthews to give the Packers star an easy sack early in the second quarter, and he was called for intentional grounding while being swarmed behind the line of scrimmage on the next play.
Webb ran five times for 60 yards, but he completed only seven of his first 20 attempts for a measly 61 yards. Peterson gained 69 yards on 19 carries.
Rodgers didn't let up after halftime. The Vikings had the Packers stopped for a field goal on fourth-and-4, but Jasper Brinkley was called for 12 men on the field when he couldn't make it to the sideline in time, and the penalty gave the Packers just enough yards to keep going. Rodgers found Kuhn open on the next play, and the fullback barged into the end zone by barreling over Jamarca Sanford at the goal line for a 24-3 lead.
The last time the Vikings were in a playoff game, they infamously were called for 12 men on the field, too, on offense that time in the fourth quarter of the NFC championship game in New Orleans to push them out of field-goal range. Brett Favre threw an interception, and they lost to the Saints in overtime.
The Vikings finally made it across midfield again on the next possession, but on fourth-and-3 at the 38, Matthews took down Webb for another sack, forced the ball out and recovered it. After a Packers punt, Webb scrambled for a first down at the Green Bay 46. But on the next play, his long pass was intercepted by Sam Shields at the 8.
After the Vikings forced another punt early in the fourth quarter, Marcus Sherels fumbled, and the Packers recovered at the Minnesota 39.
Rodgers, who entered the game with the NFL's best postseason passer rating in history at 105.5 after seven previous playoff appearances, was in prime form. After a fourth straight punt by the Vikings, Rodgers got the Packers from their 38-yard line to the Minnesota 3 in three plays. He rolled right and threw a zinger to Jordy Nelson in the final minute of the first half to set up Kuhn's plunge.
On the previous drive, Rodgers found Greg Jennings open on fourth-and-5, and Jennings spun around Chris Cook to sprint up the sideline and reach the Vikings 2. Mason Crosby's field goal pushed the lead to 10-3.
Rodgers went 4 for 4 on the first scoring drive for the Packers, who used their hurry-up, no-huddle scheme they weren't able to make work in the noisy Metrodome last Sunday. The Vikings won that game 37-34 to force the rematch, the third time these border rivals have met in a five-week span.
The Vikings used a 33-yard field goal by rookie Blair Walsh on the opening possession to get in front early. Webb ran for 17 yards on third-and-3 to keep the drive alive, but his underthrow to Michael Jenkins bounced well short on third down to set up the kick.
Rodgers had his top four receivers healthy together for the first time since September, with Jennings, Nelson, Randall Cobb and James Jones all set to go against a Vikings secondary that had trouble keeping up in their game last week after veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield left with a broken right hand. Winfield returned for this one, but his ability to play his usual physical style was in question.
Rodgers focused more on his running backs early. Harris caught two passes for 28 yards and Ryan Grant had a 16-yard reception to put the Packers in position to take the lead. The on-field ruling on the scoring run by Harris was that he was down at the 1, but Packers coach Mike McCarthy challenged the play, and the call was reversed.
For Rodgers, this game was another benchmark in his stellar career. Despite leading the Packers to a Super Bowl championship after the 2010 season, he had yet to win a playoff game at Lambeau Field. After rolling through the regular season at 15-1 in 2011, the Packers were upset here in their first postseason game by the eventual champion New York Giants. But Rodgers, despite all the injuries to his receivers this year, posted the NFL's best passer rating for the second year in a row.
Webb became the first quarterback in 20 years to start a playoff game without starting any games during that regular season since Frank Reich did so for Buffalo, according to STATS. Reich led the Bills to their famous comeback victory over Houston that year.
These teams squared off for the second time in seven days, so there wasn't much either side could do to surprise the other — except, perhaps, make a quarterback switch just before the game.
After preparing all week for Ponder, whose second-year struggles peaked in a loss here on Dec. 2 when he threw two interceptions inside the Green Bay 20-yard line, the Packers defense suddenly faced a totally different player in Webb.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound sixth-round draft pick in 2010 was athletic enough to play some wide receiver at Alabama-Birmingham and even take a few turns there with the Vikings last year before becoming a full-time quarterback this season as the backup to Ponder.
Webb had three starts over his first two NFL seasons, the first coming at Philadelphia on Dec. 28, 2010. The Vikings beat the playoff-bound Eagles that night 24-14, and Webb passed for 195 yards and ran for a touchdown.
Ponder was hurt last Sunday when Packers safety Morgan Burnett delivered a jarring hit on a blitz, but he finished the game with a career-high 120.2 passer rating and three touchdowns in the 37-34 win. His elbow just didn't improve enough during the week, however, for the Vikings to put him in.
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