The Green Bay Packers held their own destiny in their hands: Win the remaining two games of the season and get in.
They can check Week 17 off their list.
Green Bay showed out for their home fans at Lambeau Field on Sunday, dominating the Minnesota Vikings, this year’s NFC North champs, 41-17, to keep their playoff dreams alive.
Leading up to the game, there was a lot of hype surrounding these two teams as has been the case for quite some time in this historic rivalry.
Minnesota clinched the division title last week. The Packers won three straight to get back into playoff contention. And of course, Packers top cornerback Jaire Alexander called Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson’s performance the first time these two teams matched up this year – nine catches, 184, two touchdowns – a fluke.
So, with tensions high at kickoff, this was a game that was pegged to be a good one. But nobody expected what transpired for the Packers.
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It wasn’t a great start as the Vikings blocked a punt that landed them near the goal line, though they weren’t able to punch it in for a touchdown. Instead, Greg Joseph plugged a very short field goal to get the Vikings on the board first.
Then, it was all Packers from there and it began with a 105-yard kickoff return by Keisean Nixon, the first of his career. It didn’t look like Nixon should’ve brought the ball out at all, but he clearly had a feeling and it was worth the long sprint down the gridiron.
Later in the first quarter, the Vikings had solid field position after the Packers couldn’t convert on fourth down. But Kirk Cousins threw a pick to Darnell Savage on their own attempt at a fourth-down conversion, and he took it 75 yards to the house to make it a 14-3 game.
That’s when the rails fell off for the Vikings. The next drive was a missed field goal by Joseph, which the Packers turned into one of their own. Cousins was then picked off again on a deep ball intended for Jefferson. Adrian Amos took that one away.
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Robert Tonyan would find the end zone on the ensuing drive from a pretty Aaron Rodgers pass, and after Joseph missed his second field goal of the night, Mason Crosby ended the first half with a bomb from 56 yards to make it 27-3 at halftime.
In the second half, more turnovers plagued the Vikings, as their first two drives ended in disaster. First, Cousins was strip sacked by Kenny Clark, who recovered the ball in Packers territory. Then, just after the Packers made it 34-3 when A.J. Dillon punched in his sixth rushing touchdown in five games, Cousins threw another interception on the first play of the next drive.
Rodgers capped off a solid game with a rushing touchdown himself to make it 41-3, and even with time left, this one was over. The Vikings had two charity touchdowns at the end of the game, but it didn’t matter: The Packers were moving on with a chance to make the playoffs if they can get the Detroit Lions in Week 18.
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Rodgers finished 15 of 24 for 159 yards and one touchdown, while collecting that rushing score as well. Aaron Jones looked healthier in this game, totaling 111 yards on 14 carries. Allen Lazard led the receiving corps with 59 yards on five catches.
As for the Vikings, Cousins finished 18 of 31 for 205 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions, while Nick Mullens eventually came in for him. The Packers were able to swallow up Dalvin Cook, who had just 27 yards on nine carries.
Oh, and Alexander lived up to his words about Jefferson: The NFL’s top wide receiver on the stat sheet had just 15 yards on one catch (five targets). After a pass breakup, Alexander was even seen doing Jefferson’s signature “Griddy” dance.
But, at the end of the day, the Vikings are only playing for seeding while the Packers are hoping they can take down Detroit, who is also looking to sneak into the playoffs.
Minnesota is now the No. 3 seed in the NFC after the San Francisco 49ers extended their win streak with an overtime victory against the Las Vegas Raiders. They will take on the Chicago Bears in Week 18.
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