GREEN BAY, WIS. – The doors to the visiting locker room inside Lambeau Field opened, and a crowd flowed in. Teddy Bridgewater was the first player to walk down the hallway. He sang, “Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell, Jingle Bell Rock.’’
Across the hallway stood Sam Bradford, wearing sweats and talking with a Vikings official. As the hallway opened onto lockers, the corner stall was occupied by Case Keenum, the guy who wasn’t considered a franchise quarterback, who may lead the Vikings to the second 13-victory season in franchise history.
In a year of odd juxtapositions and strange happenings, the Vikings experienced both on Saturday night. They shut out their archrival in a late-December game, on the road, en route to the playoffs, and yet the game felt … anticlimactic?
Maybe “routine’’ would be the better word. On the sloppy tundra, the Vikings defeated the Green Bay Passives 16-0, sweeping the season series. This wasn’t the Vikings’ finest hour, yet this is becoming one of their finest seasons.
“It doesn’t matter how,’’ Keenum said. “It matters how many.’’
If there is a downside in terms of the entertainment value of this season, it’s that the Vikings are making their surge to the finish line seem clinical, and they are beating teams that have no business playing in prime time.
They have blown out the Bengals and Packers in succession and seem primed to treat the woeful Bears similarly in the regular-season finale.
The strangest aspect of their latest victory was the utter ineptitude of the Packers, who didn’t play well, or exhibit much passion. They didn’t even seem to be trying to exact revenge for the Anthony Barr tackle that ruined the season for quarterback Aaron Rodgers and all of Green Bay.
Twice in the first quarter, Keenum held the ball, inviting a hit from looming Packers defenders. Both times, the Packers pulled up and Keenum remained on his feet. (I’m not saying the Packers should have tried to hurt him. I’m just surprised that they didn’t.)
The Vikings played their intended starting offensive line together for the first time since October, but the group didn’t stay together long. Left guard Nick Easton broke his ankle in the first quarter and will miss the rest of the season. Left tackle Riley Reiff limped off the field in the fourth quarter.
On top of that, long snapper Kevin McDermott left the game in the second quarter with a shoulder injury.
Despite the injuries, the game reprised the story of the NFC North this season. The Vikings won big with their backup quarterback. The Packers fell apart without their starter. The Packers are 94-48 when Rodgers starts, and, since he became the starter, they are 6-10-1 when he doesn’t. The Vikings are 11-3 when Keenum plays.
If there were concerns raised in the game, you could pick on a few passes thrown by Keenum that could have been intercepted. In the first quarter, he underthrew Stefon Diggs, although that allowed Diggs to draw a pass-interference penalty.
In the third quarter, Keenum overthrew Adam Thielen down the left sideline on what could have been a long touchdown pass.
The Vikings hadn’t failed to score 14 points since an Oct. 1 loss to Detroit. They reached 16 with a field goal late in the fourth quarter, against a bad defense missing its best players and coached by a coordinator, Dom Capers, who may be on his way out.
“I felt like we left some plays out there,’’ Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said.
“There were a couple of throws I’d like back,’’ Keenum said, in agreement.
The Packers entered the game without Rodgers, star defender Clay Matthews, their best cornerback in Damarious Randall and their most productive receiver in Davante Adams. During the game, they lost receiver Jordy Nelson and running back Aaron Jones.
This was like watching the BBF Packers, before Brett Favre’s arrival led to 25 years of quarterback stability.
The Vikings are winning despite quarterback chaos. Late Saturday night, Bridgewater was singing, Bradford was chatting, and Keenum was planning to win No. 13.