Despite loss, RB Harris a possible revelation
DEC 30, 2012 7:43p ET
Five things we learned from the Packers' 37-34 loss to the Vikings:
1. The rematch is set
Green Bay won't have to wait long to get another shot at the Vikings. Minnesota's fourth consecutive win to close out the regular season -- all since losing to the Packers on Dec. 2 -- has forced a rematch between the two teams on Saturday night at 7 p.m. at Lambeau Field.
The Vikings seemed almost completely out of the playoff picture after falling to 6-6 following their loss in Green Bay a month ago, but Minnesota is now officially one of the NFL's hottest teams heading into the postseason. As the 2010 Packers and 2011 New York Giants can attest to, being the hot team at this time of year can result in a Super Bowl victory. To prevent that, Green Bay will have to make sure that next weekend's rematch plays out a lot differently that Sunday's game did.
2. A vastly improved Christian Ponder changed everything for Vikings
In the Dec. 2 game, Ponder completed 12 passes for 119 yards with two interceptions. There was very little Ponder did that day to show that he even belonged in the NFL, as his critical mistakes were the biggest reason that the Vikings lost that game in Green Bay.
Well, in this game, Ponder was the one of the main reasons that Minnesota won. He threw three touchdown passes, did not have an interception and made the smart throws when he had to.
Without a go-to receiver, Ponder spread the ball around evenly to Jarius Wright, Jerome Simpson and Michael Jenkins. Ponder's one error in judgement came when he got hit in the pocket and threw a pass high into the air. However, Green Bay's secondary failed to grab the ball and it actually resulted in a completed catch.
As proven in the two regular season games against the Packers, the Vikings will go as far as Ponder can take them. If Ponder plays well, Minnesota can win. If Ponder struggles, the Vikings become too one-dimensional offensively to be effective.
3. The Packers cannot stop Adrian Peterson
Peterson ran for 199 yards in this game, passing 2,000 yards on the season but falling just nine yards short of Eric Dickerson's all-time record.
In the two games against Green Bay in the regular season, Peterson totaled 409 yards. In the first matchup, Peterson averaged 10.0 yards per carry. In this game, he was down to 5.9 yards per carry while being handed the ball a career-high 34 times.
Though Peterson is the perfect combination of power and speed and is a challenge for any NFL defense to bring down, he really had his way with the Packers this season. Peterson was breaking tackles, and when he got in the open field, was often too physical to be brought down at the point of first contact.
There are no questions about what Adrian Peterson can do. He's the best running back in the NFL and is quickly establishing himself as one of the best at his position to ever play the game. But he's not necessarily the key to wins and losses for Minnesota. When Peterson ran for 210 yards on Dec. 2, the Vikings lost to the Packers. When Peterson ran for 86 yards on Dec. 23 on the road against the Houston Texans, Minnesota won.
As great as Peterson is, Green Bay won the first matchup and lost this game because of how the Packers did against the rest of the Vikings' lineup. In the playoff rematch, Peterson can rush for 200 yards and Green Bay can still win as long as Ponder is held in check.
4. Mike McCarthy is still learning NFL rules on challenge flags
Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz found out on Thanksgiving just how unforgiving the NFL's rule is on challenging a play that is automatically reviewed. In the heat of the moment, McCarthy forgot the rules and almost had a disastrous moment of his own.
On the play, Aaron Rodgers connected with James Jones on an 8-yard pass near the end zone. Jones extended the ball toward the goal line, and upon the ball hitting the field, was fumbled. The original ruling was a fumble, recovered by Minnesota. But, as with all turnover plays now, it's automatically reviewed. But McCarthy threw the challenge flag anyway, causing a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty for doing so.
Fortunately for McCarthy, his flag toss came just seconds after the review had been called for, meaning that the play could still be reviewed. Considering the play was ruled a touchdown upon review, the Packers nearly lost seven points due to McCarthy's error.
Jordy Nelson picked up the challenge flag just as it hit the field, an indication that he knew the rule at that moment better than his coach. Rodgers lost his cool momentarily after seeing McCarthy mistakenly challenging the play when he didn't have to.
But Jones got the touchdown, and, more than likely, this rule will be gone by next season.
5. DuJuan Harris: Featured running back
Ryan Grant started the game for the Packers and got the first two carries, but that was it. From that point on, it was Harris' show at running back. The undrafted first-year player, who was not even on the Packers' active roster until Dec. 1, ran the ball 14 times for 70 yards.
Harris looked good, too. He's only 5-foot-8, but Harris is fast, runs hard and is difficult to bring down. Like James Starks in the Packers' Super Bowl run in 2010, Harris appears to be the unproven running back who will be featured in Green Bay's backfield in the playoffs.
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