The Green Bay Packers arrived in Minneapolis with Aaron Rodgers, Eddie Lacy and a subliminal message for the Minnesota Vikings’ muddled ownership and management:
If you want to be taken seriously in the National Football League, build your team right.
The Packers left the noisy Metrodome Sunday night with a 44-31 victory — most of the noise erupting from the alien but happy Cheeseheads who were part of the audience by the thousands.
The final score ironically was merciful. The Packers were three to four touchdowns better than the Vikings Sunday, and they did it with only half of their front-line pass receivers available to play and with three or four other potential starters waiting for medical clearance.
Boos and miscellaneous wailing descended predictably on the about-to-be exiled Viking quarterback Christian Ponder and some of his clumsier teammates. To these you may as well add Leslie Frazier, the head coach, and his coordinator of his offense, Bill Musgrave.
Those howls of anguish undoubtedly were in earnest but were badly misplaced.
They should have been aimed at the Vikings’ Wilf ownership and their general manager, Rick Spielman. There’s a caveat for Spielman. His draft choices over the years have been sound. He’s one of the better front-office visionaries in the field, with a flattering recent history for guessing right in the slippery terrain of player selection.
But Rick Spielman is as culpable as the Wilf ownership for the bizarre embarrassments of the last two weeks: the odd importation from Florida of the disgruntled quarterback Josh Freeman; and then playing him from start to miserable finish against the New York Giants when he couldn’t tell the Viking playbook from the Book of Psalms. Then retiring him for a week to avoid Sunday night’s national TV audience.
All of which paved the way for Sunday night’s climactic sideline scene Sunday night when the one Viking quarterback who has won a game this year, Matt Cassel, was left out of the action.
You can’t blame Frazier for not trying to meet the daily cascades from thousands of wailing critics about trying to find a way to release Adrian Peterson from his bondage to an uninspired game plan. The thought had occurred to the Vikings a few hundred times. But until now Adrian has been a runner, and his personal grail is to pile up yards on the ground. They again tried Adrian as a receiver Sunday. They also tried him in his normal running routes and tried to create new ones.
For a few elusive minutes, the Viking pratfalls of the 2013 season seemed to have vanished. Cordarrelle Patterson — one of Rick Spielman’s genuine strikes of the 2013 draft — took the Packers opening kickoff 109 yards for a touchdown, equaling the league record. When you see Patterson’s almost effortless shifts and accelerations in the midst of the runback chaos, and his speed in open space you’d swear that this guy could do this every day.
Which he probably could. So opponents will work on new tactics, but they can’t send more than 11 and they can’t shrink the field, so you will see Patterson going end to end again.
But you are not going to see very many quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers. It wasn’t only his 282 yards on 24 completions out of 29 throws, his touchdown passes of 76 yards and 11 yards to Jordy Nelson, or his willingness to run and risk injury when his team needed another yard or two to keep possession,
It was his unhurried command of his offense — or hurried command when the clock was running out. And quarterbacks at the Aaron Rodgers level don’t call time outs to save a few ticks. Somebody years ago called it grace under pressure. The great ones have it. Rodgers has it. He will lose, but he will not lose often if the field is level.
And his management this year armed him with a new toy, weighing 245 pounds. The Minnesota crowd Sunday got its first look at Eddie Lacy, the rookie from Alabama who has become their feature runner. Despite his weight, Lacy is remarkably gifted with an ability to shift directions as well as to overrun tacklers. “Those little defensive backs,” somebody observed, “they’ll tackle Lacy … but they’d rather not.”
For a couple of years, the Packers struggled without a serious running game. Now they have one not only in Lacy but in his relief, James Stark. Each scored against the Vikings, and between them they rolled up 182 yards.
You can’t accuse the Vikings of rolling over. After Micah Hyde of the Packers raced 93 yards with a punt return to stretch the Packer lead to two touchdowns in the second quarter, Peterson hammered his way into the end zone from the eight to shave the Packer lead to 24-17 at halftime. They were still competitive going into the second half until Lacy and Starks scored on the ground and Mason Crosby kicked his second of three field goals to stretch the Packer lead to 41-17 and the game was essentially over.
Even so, Toby Gerhart, the faithful blocking back on so many of Peterson’s big gains, scored himself from 13 yards out in the closing minutes. And then Christian Ponder momentarily hushed a few detractors by scrambling 19 yards to score.
None of his critics appeared mollified by this. Nor does there appear any future for Ponder in Minnesota. The Vikings brought in Freeman to be, ahem, the Vikings quarterback of the future. For the fiasco of Freeman’s appearance in New York, Leslie Frazier took the organizational fall. One redemption of the unsightly events at the Metrodome Sunday was the quiet class with which Christian Ponder and Leslie Frazier dealt with the repercussions.
In the end, Adrian Peterson fell short of his targets. He managed 60 yards on the ground and tried his best to help the Viking passing game. But Peterson is obsessed with his goal of becoming the greatest running back in history, and his uncharactistic putdown of his offensive line last week was a measure of the that obsession.
Pro football does that, this photogenic and brutal game. TV watchers on Sunday might have seen Dez Bryant, the Dallas receiver, almost physically attacking Tony Romo for not throwing to him more than he did, almost physically attacking him.
By coincidence, the Vikings, now in last place in the NFC North at 1-6, play Dallas Sunday in Dallas. It’s hard to know which team has more misery to vent.