Charles Woodson has seen just about everything in his 15-year career. He has even suffered, rehabilitated and returned from the same injury that cost him nine regular-season games this year. And yet Woodson freely admitted he was "scared" about the first contact he would take on his right collarbone Saturday night. An early takedown of tailback Adrian Peterson boosted his confidence, however, and Woodson said: "Getting that first tackle, hitting the ground a couple of times, having people fall on top of me, on the side where I broke it, and to get up with no pain, that was a load off my shoulders." It just goes to show that even the toughest and most experienced athletes experience the same doubts we would all have in that situation.
Woodson played a significant role in limiting Peterson to 99 rushing yards, adding a sure tackler to a defense that had struggled to bring Peterson to the ground in two previous games. (More than half of Peterson's yards came after the Packers took their 24-3 lead in the third quarter.) Peterson managed only 32 yards after contact after piling up 230 such yards against the Packers in the first two games. Packers players credited more disciplined lane integrity when Peterson tried to break runs outside; he managed just 4 yards after contact and a total of 20 yards on runs outside the tackles. Better tackling and contain no doubt played the biggest roles, but it's also worth noting that defensive coordinator Dom Capers increased his rate of putting at least eight men in the box from 23.6 percent in the first two games to 31.8 on Saturday night, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Peterson managed only 3.3 yards per carry in those situations, and Woodson made clear that the elevated run support wasn't a bi-product of Joe Webb replacing Christian Ponder at quarterback. "No disrespect to Ponder," Woodson said, "but bringing a guy down in the box isn't about Christian Ponder [sitting out]. It's about one guy. That's Adrian Peterson. Our main focus, whether it was Ponder or Webb, was to keep [Peterson] from getting off. If we could get the ball in the quarterback's hands, whatever quarterback it was, we felt good about that."
The Vikings made a conscious choice to stay back in coverage and do whatever they could to limit the downfield threat posed by the long-awaited reunion of the Packers' top four receivers. And then the Vikings became the latest team to realize that quarterback Aaron Rodgers can find the holes in just about every defense. In Week 17, he brutalized replacement nickelback Marcus Sherels. Saturday night, Rodgers played the short game to near-perfect. Three-quarters of his 33 passes traveled fewer than 15 yards in the air, and 10 of them went no further than the original line of scrimmage. Overall, Rodgers completed 21 of 28 passes for 233 yards and a touchdown when the Vikings sent their standard rush and put seven or eight men in coverage. Against their blitz, Rodgers took three sacks and completed only two of five passes. So it goes with an All-Pro quarterback. Rodgers now has 25 touchdown passes and four interceptions in 11 career starts against the Vikings.
And here is one issue I still don't get:
How did referee Scott Green's crew miss left guard T.J. Lang being 5 yards downfield on John Kuhn's touchdown reception in the third quarter? The mistake had nothing to do with the outcome of the game, but even Lang was laughing afterwards about how far downfield he got before Rodgers threw the ball. Typically, an offensive lineman has a grace area of about 1 yard past the line of scrimmage on screen passes. Lang was past the 4-yard line and the line of scrimmage was at the 9. "I was a little lost," Lang said. "I think I was at the goal line by the time the ball was thrown. I just had to hide my number to make sure they didn't throw a flag. The refs didn't catch it."