GREEN BAY, WIS. – After deactivating their promising young quarterback, after the skies opened up at Lambeau Field and the Green Bay Packers opened up an early 14-0 lead, after the Vikings offense was finally able to string together a couple of first downs, it looked as if something might actually go right for the visitors on Thursday night.
Then Christian Ponder dropped back to pass and was intercepted.
When the emergency starter dropped back again — after Packers pass rusher Julius Peppers had finished shimmying up the wall into the front row of the bleachers at Lambeau to celebrate his 49-yard return for a pick-six — he was intercepted on his next pass attempt.
Moments later, after Aaron Rodgers threw his third touchdown pass of the night, the game was all but over, and many remote controls across the country clicked the channel to something that, well, wasn’t a nationally televised dumpster fire.
“That one was over early,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said, summing up his team’s 42-10 loss.
Ponder, who was inactive as the team’s third quarterback only 11 days ago, was forced into action Thursday after rookie Teddy Bridgewater’s sprained left ankle couldn’t heal quickly enough during the short workweek. And with Bridgewater watching from the sideline with a hoodie shielding him from the rain and a forlorn look on his face, Ponder did little to reward the coaching staff for keeping him on the roster after the preseason.
“I feel bad I put the team in this position,” Ponder said. “I’ll take the blame.”
In the first half, while a victory was still theoretically in reach for the Vikings, Ponder completed only eight of his 18 attempts for 60 yards with a pair of interceptions. His two first-half highlights were a nice throw but incomplete pass to Jarius Wright after Ponder executed a play-action fake with no one else in the backfield and his tackle of Packers linebacker Jamari Lattimore after his second interception.
Ponder finished the game with 222 yards on 22-of-44 passing.
“In fairness to him, he got reps this week but he hasn’t gotten many reps,” Zimmer said. “He was behind receivers a few times. He was over receivers a few times.”
But with the way the rest of the Vikings performed, they still might not have put up a fight even if Zimmer had decided to allow Bridgewater to start against the Packers.
The offensive line, which played so well in their shootout victory over the Atlanta Falcons only four days earlier, did not give Ponder the pocket protection he needed to have a chance. The running game was inconsistent early. Wide receivers Cordarrelle Patterson — who missed much of the second half because of a minor hip injury — and Greg Jennings were non-factors.
And then there was the defense, which allowed Rodgers and the Packers to get out to a quick lead.
Green Bay’s quarterback routinely picked apart Minnesota’s Cover-2 defense in recent years, but while the defensive approach was different under Zimmer, the numbers were pretty similar to Rodgers’ past production.
Rodgers opened the scoring with an 8-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Randall Cobb, who shook free of cornerback Captain Munnerlyn on a corner route in the end zone.
On Green Bay’s next drive, Rodgers froze the Minnesota defense with a play-action fake and took his time throwing a deep ball to wide receiver Jordy Nelson, who turned safety Harrison Smith around with a double move and was at least 10 yards in front of the nearest defender when he caught the pass. He ran it in for a 66-yard touchdown.
Rodgers hit rookie wide receiver Davante Adams for 11 yards late in the second quarter for his third touchdown pass of the game, the 200th of his career and his 29th against the Vikings.
In the second half, it was the Eddie Lacy Show as the Packers (3-2) pounded the Vikings (2-3) with their powerful second-year running back. Lacy, who topped the 100-yard mark in the third quarter, scored on touchdowns of 11 yards and 10 yards — he bulldozed safety Robert Blanton into the end zone on the second one — to give the Packers a 42-0 lead.
“It’s frustrating when people can run the ball down your throat and you give up big plays on plays that shouldn’t have happened,” Zimmer said.
Ponder ran for a 6-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter to end the shutout, but nothing but non-PG-rated words came to mind when Zimmer glanced up at the scoreboard late in the game.
“My job is to get the football team to move forward. We didn’t do that,” Zimmer said. “So if I have to hurt some feelings, I’m going to hurt some feelings. I don’t care because my feelings are hurt, too.”
Friday will not be a pleasant day for anyone at Winter Park after little went right for Ponder and the Vikings. But if good news is possible after an embarrassing blowout loss, it’s that the Vikings now get nine days to prepare for their next game and make sure that Bridgewater is healthy enough to start at home against the Detroit Lions.
“I don’t have to go back to the drawing board. It was one game out of 16,” Zimmer said. “We got our noses rubbed into it tonight. We’ll go back and get back to work.”