Hartman: Vikings, Packers continue in opposite directions

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 28, 2013 - 5:30 AM

The Vikings have looked nothing like a playoff team since beating the Packers in last year’s season finale.

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Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder (center) sat with quarterback Matt Cassel,m left, and injured quarterback Josh Freeman as they watched the Vikings lose in the fourth quarter.

Last season, the Packers and the Vikings played three times, including the season finale the Vikings won 37-34 to send the teams to a rematch in the wild-card round of the playoffs six days later.

Earlier in December, the Vikings led 14-10 at Green Bay in the third quarter before blowing it in a 23-14 loss.

And then in the playoff game, with Christian Ponder not available because of injury and Joe Webb starting at quarterback for the first time all season, the Vikings had little chance and the Packers won 24-10.

If you watched Green Bay’s 44-31 victory Sunday night, you watched a Packers team playing without a number of important injured players that still got the better of the hosts because the best quarterback in the NFL, one Aaron Rodgers, had a phenomenal day, going 24-for-29 for 285 yards and two touchdowns for a 130.6 quarterback rating.

You have to wonder how the Packers got so much better while the Vikings have gone so far downhill from the team that went 10-6.

For those who want to criticize Ponder’s performance Sunday, the third-quarter summary is a good example of why the quarterback position is not the biggest problem for this years Vikings squad.

In that quarter, the Packers had the ball for nearly 13 minutes and ran 22 plays, while the Vikings had the ball for only 2 minutes, 2 seconds, punting after a three-and-out.

Defense is lost

Veteran linebacker Chad Greenway was asked what the defense can do to find some way to get off the field on third down. The Packers were 13-for-18 on third down Sunday, and they also went 2-for-2 on two fourth down and never punted the ball.

“We just haven’t been good, for us it just hasn’t been good at all, third down, really all across the board. You can’t give these guys that many opportunities,” he said.

Greenway said he will do what he can to try to reverse a season that seems to be unraveling.

“[I can] be myself, come in and lead by example, come in and lead with words and keep fighting,” he said. “There are not a lot of positives you can pull from this. As a writer, you can see that. Players have to go out there and make plays, coaches have to coach, and as players you have to put it on yourself as an individual and say, ‘What can I do more to help the team?’ ”

Kill makes difference

No doubt the presence of Jerry Kill, who is on a leave of absence from coaching to treat his epileptic seizures but was still around the Gophers football building all last week, contributed to the team’s 34-23 victory over Nebraska on Saturday. The players will say they played with extra motivation at Northwestern and against Nebraska because of the respect they have for their ailing coach, and they believe victories are the best healing process for him.

Saturday, Kill was on the sidelines at TCF Bank Stadium before the game, then retreated to the coaches box to watch the game until halftime, when he went down and gave a speech to the players in the locker room. Kill then went back to the box for the second half and returned to the locker room for a postgame speech.

“He was around all week and sat in a few meetings and was at practice and in the business with all us coaches,” acting coach Tracy Claeys said. “He enjoys being around it. He’s around it as much as what his doctors will allow him to be while he continues to go through his treatment. Just having him around is a big plus for all of us, coaches and players.”

Looking back to the reasons for the Gophers’ success over the past two weeks, Claeys credited a good part of team’s turnaround to its ability to get healthy over the bye week before the Northwestern game.

“[The bye] allowed us to get our legs underneath us and get some people healthy and go back and work on some fundamentals,” Claeys said. “Right now, the kids have a lot of confidence and believe in each other, which they should.”

Big momentum shift

Nebraska took a quick 10-0 lead Saturday, scoring a touchdown only 2 minutes, 34 seconds in and then kicking a field goal 5:20 later.

“I went back and visited with the kids and we were pretty comfortable,” Claeys said. “They came out and ran a little bit of option on us and they hit the one big play-action pass [a 42-yard completion to Kenny Bell] and got behind Eric Murray, and then the rest of the day he did a nice job on Bell and kept control of him. I didn’t sense any panic at all. I think the offense coming back and getting that big drive and getting the game to 10-7 gave us a chance to get the defense settled down, and it changed some things. From that point on, I really feel like we got after them and controlled the game.”

It was to the Gophers’ benefit that defensive end Ra’Shede Hageman decided to play the best game of his career against the Cornhuskers.

Nebraska had lost its best offensive lineman to injury last week in right guard Spencer Long, and Hageman took advantage.

“That’s the side that the way they line up Ra’Shede he would have been on him the most,” Claeys said. “I’ll tell you what, 1-on-1, I think you rate players by [if] you’d want to play against them or not, and I can tell you that I would not want to play against Ra’Shede in any 1-on-1 situation.”

Bad Hoosiers history

Despite the fact that Indiana has been a noncompetitive football team over the years, the Hoosiers have been able to beat the Gophers at home in recent years. The Gophers are 6-17-2 in Bloomington and only 2-16 in their past 18 visits there dating to 1969.

Their toughest loss to the Hoosiers came in 2000 when they had started the year 5-2 and just defeated No. 6 Ohio State on the road, ending a 16-game losing streak to the Buckeyes. The Gophers were ranked No. 22 in the nation. Indiana was 2-4 on the season and had just lost 58-0 at Michigan. But the Gophers lost that game 51-43 and finished the season at 6-6 after such a promising start.

Then in 2004 the Gophers were once again 6-2 going to play at Indiana and ranked No. 24. The week before, they had defeated Illinois 45-0. Indiana was 2-5 at the time and had just lost 30-7 to Ohio State, its fifth loss in a row. The Hoosiers would defeat the Gophers 30-21 and Minnesota would lose its final three Big Ten games.

This year’s Hoosiers are 3-4 and coming off a bye, but they were giving up tons of points before then. They lost to Michigan 63-47 two weeks ago and Michigan State 42-28 Oct. 12. Still the Hoosiers did beat Penn State at home 44-24 and are averaging 42.4 points per game.

 

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com

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