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We've written this before, and we'll write again now: Without Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers are essentially the Minnesota Vikings.
We had plenty of evidence before, but the point could not have been driven home more beautifully than it was Sunday, with the rarest of NFL rarities: the tie.
Both teams leaned heavily on the run game Sunday, with the two best players on the field offensively being Adrian Peterson and Eddie Lacy.
Both teams have flawed defenses that are capable of giving up huge chunks of yards at any given moment.
Both teams had quarterbacks who made plays and kept them in the game -- just not enough plays to win the game when it mattered most. Christian Ponder and the relieving Matt Flynn, in fact, both had numerous chances with the ball in their hands to win the game. Ponder couldn't make a couple of first downs to seal the game. Flynn and the Packers settled for a field goal to tie late. Ponder couldn't do anything in a hurry-up drive at the end of regulation. Flynn misfired on a third-and-goal pass in overtime, as the Packers settled for a field goal. Ponder and the Vikings marched back down but had to settle for the same.
It was a stark reminder of just how important great QB play is in the NFL. If Rodgers would have played Sunday, there is no chance the Packers fall behind, and there is no chance they lose. End of story.
If there is some solace for Vikings fans, it is this: the purple kept the Packers from creeping back into a tie in the NFC North on a day the Lions and Bears lost. At the end of the year, a tie can be as good as a win or as bad as a loss. We'll see which it is for Green Bay.
Speaking of the QB of the future ... the Vikings with a loss would have moved into a four-way tie for the worst record in the NFL -- and likely would have held the tiebreaker for the No. 1 pick based on this. Instead, they sit in 4th place in the draft order at 2-8-1, and they didn't even get the satisfaction of a victory.
Classic Vikings, even as they remind us of the Packers and vice-versa.
Born out of a series of Tweets by commenter @RandBallsStu, an idea by your humble proprietor and a sick thirst to rile up Packers fans for no good reason, we present, "The Increasingly Lost Season." In this series, which is now in its second year, Stu will give a brief recap of the Packers' misfortunes as they tumble back toward Randy Wright-esque putridity (even if that probably isn't true). Stu?
What happens when two bitter NFC North rivals face off, even when one is a flat-out disgrace and the other is sticking with a struggling Christian Ponder? In an increasingly lost season, the answer is “the same old same old.”
As predicted in this space last week, the Packers were once again unable to defeat Eli Manning when it mattered and saw their season continue to fall apart. Although NFL rules prohibit the questioning of any of Dear Leader Ted Thompson’s wise and capable decisions for the greater good, the ongoing embarrassment of having zero competent backups to actor/quarterback Aaron Rodgers continues to be apparent to those who dare engage in Thoughtcrime.
Now, they have another week of starting “quarterback” Scott Tolzien as Rodgers heals and lines up voiceover work, and get to play another team heading in the wrong direction, the Minnesota Vikings. Of course, unlike Green Bay, Minnesota seems to have come to terms with its bitterly disappointing 2013, and is focused on building for a better, brighter future. The Packers and some in their misguided fan base think that, just because they’re not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, means they are in the hunt for another division title. “After all, Aaron’s coming back,” they might say.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but he’s not coming back. Hollywood is his pack of cigarettes, and Green Bay is his abandoned family, looking to scrape enough money together to put some dollar store gifts under a tree that’s actually just cases of Old Style returnables stacked in a haphazard, moldering pyramid. Oh, sure, he’ll come back. Keep telling yourself that.
Will they be able to end their losing streak against the injury-riddled Vikings? In an increasingly lost season, the smart money’s on “don’t count on it.”
This should be a grand weekend in border rivalry history, with both the Badgers vs. Gophers and Vikings vs. Packers filling the two-day schedule.
For a refreshing change of pace, the Gophers and Badgers are holding up their end of the bargain (note: this has primarily been the Gophers' fault in past years) as both teams enter Saturday's 2:30 p.m. game at TCF Bank Stadium with 8-2 records.
But the Vikings' game at Daunte's House on Sunday? Well, that's another story. Both teams are stumbling badly because of their QB situations. The Packers are on their third, Scott Tolzien. You might say the Vikings are on their fourth, starting with Christian Ponder, then Matt Cassel, then Josh Freeman and now (still) back to Ponder.
It got us thinking: Will this be the worst QB matchup in the storied history of the Vikings/Packers rivalry?
Let's start with Ponder vs. Tolzien. They are both third-year QBs. Ponder was drafted in the first round. Tolzien was undrafted. And we honestly couldn't tell you which one we'd rather have right now. That is not hyperbole.
Between them, they have 7 TD passes and 14 INTs this season. In the modern NFL, that is just abysmal.
But are they the worst matchup -- the worst duo to start at QB in this series?
Well, the Packers have either had Aaron Rodgers or Brett Favre as starting QBs for 20-plus years of matchups before this, so that takes us at least into the early 1990s. The Vikings, starting there and moving backwards, had Rich Gannon, Wade Wilson and Tommy Kramer going back to the late 1970s. Even in the Vikings' leaner years in there (Steve Dils), the Packers countered with the somewhat respectable Lynn Dickey. Dils vs. Dickey is better than Tolzien vs. Ponder.
We found a game from 1977 -- Bob Lee vs. David Whitehurst, a 13-6 Vikings win -- that is at least the equal of Sunday's matchup.
And then we traveled all the way back to 1971 for a matchup that was worse than Ponder/Tolzien: Gary Cuozzo vs. Scott Hunter. The teams combined to COMPLETE 11 passes in the game. The final score? 3-0 Vikings on a fourth-quarter field goal.
That was worse than the matchup Sunday. But it took four decades to find it.
The latest today: Christian Ponder is starting and gives the Vikings the best chance to win, Leslie Frazier says. So close the book. Nobody on the current roster will be the starting QB in 2014.
But please feel free to give your two cents in the comments, as usual.
If it feels as though the Vikings QB situation hasn't truly been settled for several weeks, well ... you're right. We were so curious about it that we did something we've been meaning to do for a while: we went back in the Star Tribune electronic archives and looked at head coach Leslie Frazier's comments starting before the Vikings' fourth game against the Steelers until now. The look-back is rather revealing:
“I don’t foresee a quarterback controversy.” – Frazier, days before the Steelers game, after it was determined Matt Cassel would start in place of the injured Christian Ponder, who had gone 0-3 in starting the first three games of the season.
“It makes it a little bit easier for the play caller when you can put together some drives and finish those drives.” – Frazier, complimenting Cassel’s performance against the Steelers, the Vikings’ first win of the season.
Christian Ponder “is still our starting quarterback.” – Frazier, in the week after the Steelers game. Following a bye week, he said, “We’ll talk more about it as the week goes on, but we’re not at a point, without watching the guys practice, where we can make a determination about who our starter is going to be. Ponder ended up sitting out with a rib injury and Cassel started in a 35-10 loss against Carolina. Keep in mind that Josh Freeman was brought in during all of this.
“From the moment he stepped in the building, he wanted to learn. And the way he handled himself in that practice, it changed my mind-set about the possibilities.” – Frazier, a few days after the Carolina loss, in announcing Freeman would start against the New York Giants.
“I don’t know if I’ve thought that far ahead. I really haven’t.” – Frazier, when asked about his long-term starting QB, the day after the Giants game, though it seemed certain that Freeman would start against the Packers based on Frazier’s other comments.
“We need to get Christian ready to go.” – Frazier, the very next day, after the Vikings said Freeman suffered a previously undisclosed concussion against the Giants. Ponder ended up starting against the Packers in a lopsided loss.
“Christian gives us the best chance to win and that’s how we’re going to approach it. Now there may come a point where you have to make a decision for different reasons, but we’re in a position right now where it’s purely based on who gives us the best chance to win.” – Frazier, in naming Ponder the starter for the second consecutive week, this time vs. Dallas.
Ponder also started the next week against Washington, a foregone conclusion since it was a Thursday game. The Vikings won, but Ponder left the game with an injury to his left shoulder.
“We know exactly what’s going on, now it’s a matter of how fast he heals and how much strength he gains in the next few days.” – Frazier on whether Ponder’s injury would allow him to play against Seattle. He ended up starting Sunday, but was benched for poor play in favor of Matt Cassel.
Monday: Frazier said he hasn’t made a decision on who will start Sunday against the Packers but that all three quarterbacks are healthy enough to play.
We're not sure what happened to Ponder's ability to give the Vikings "the best chance to win," Cassel's ability to "finish those drives" or how much Freeman "wanted to learn" in the past several weeks, but as usual we look forward to a (temporary) resolution to the QB conundrum.