The Vikings beat the Packers 20-13 in Green Bay on Sunday night and won the division for the first time since 2009. But the visitors did everything they could to hand the victory to the home team despite leading 20-3 through three quarters.
Now they get a chance to avenge the 38-7 loss they suffered last month at TCF Bank Stadium to a Seattle team that is playing its best football of the season as evidenced by the 36-6 victory the Seahawks recorded at NFC No. 2 seed Arizona on Sunday.
The Packers have a great reputation for playing well at Lambeau Field, but this was clearly not their year, as they lost all three of their home division games. However, Sunday they played much better than they did a week ago, when they were blown out 38-8 at Arizona.
This time, they had a chance at a tying touchdown on the final play of the game, looking for a Hail Mary reception like the one they had that beat Detroit on Dec. 3.
The Vikings held on, though, and some of their players should take some bows for the rare victory across the border:
Xavier Rhodes had an interception in the end zone that kept the Packers from tying the score, the Vikings' first against Aaron Rodgers in eight games. Adam Thielen had a big early play, a 41-yard run on a fake punt, and he added a 26-yard run that set up the first touchdown as well as a 16-yard catch. Everson Griffen had six tackles, including two sacks, to help the Vikings keep Rodgers in check until the fourth quarter.
Without left tackle David Bakhtiari for the second game in a row, Rodgers was under a lot of pressure, but in the fourth quarter he showed why he is one of the NFL's best when he almost sent the game into overtime.
Yes, the defense carried the load in this victory. Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater completed only 10 of 19 passes for 99 yards and was the victim of an interception, although it didn't hurt when Rodgers fumbled shortly after.
Turnovers could have really hurt the Vikings. Besides the Bridgewater interception, Cordarrelle Patterson ruined his long kickoff return that could have put the game on ice when he was stripped of the ball by kicker Mason Crosby. That gave Green Bay the ball a possession to tie the score.
And after the Vikings defense held, Adrian Peterson had to pounce on a bad handoff from Bridgewater on the Vikings' first play.
But the Vikings appear to be mostly healthy, and the team could go a long way if it can avoid turnovers, and if Bridgewater can get to the form he had shown in recent weeks.
Need to learn
The Timberwolves have earned a reputation of playing three quarters of competitive basketball and then falling apart. General Manager Milt Newton was asked what the team's problem has been.
"That's something we're trying to figure out right now," Newton said. "The future of our team is in the young players, and late in the game, I guess you know, if we were to put veterans in there that can maybe can close games out, maybe they might have a little more success, but our future is those young players, so what we're trying to do is let them go through those experiences.
"A lot of other veteran teams, when the game is on the line and they put their veterans in there … they can close games out because they've been through those experiences and our young guys haven't. So it's something we have to balance between getting them the experience they need to get to take this team forward, and letting them take their lumps."
The Wolves certainly have a great core to build around, with the past two No. 1 overall picks in the NBA draft in Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, and another 20-year-old potential star in Zach LaVine. But they have too many inconsistent players, even point guard Ricky Rubio.
"I think that they're still learning," Newton said. "Sometimes they make passes that maybe they shouldn't make, or more specifically, take shots that maybe in the first quarter and the second quarter that's a good shot, but in the fourth quarter when the game is in the balance, maybe you make an extra pass, and that's something that all of us have to learn — how to make winning plays when it's winning time."
• An interesting e-mail from Riki Ellison, a three-time Super Bowl champion linebacker with the San Francisco 49ers and the father of Vikings tight end Rhett Ellison: "Wanted to let you know [Rhett] has strong Minnesota roots as well in ice hockey. His uncle Dave Maley went to Edina High School and won the state championship, then got a scholarship from Bob Johnson of Wisconsin and won the national championship in 1983, he then was the 33rd draft pick to the NHL for the Montreal Canadiens and won the Stanley Cup in 1986. Matching my history in football of winning the state championship of Arizona in 1975, the national championship with USC in 1978 and three Super Bowl championships with the 49ers in '84, '88 and '89." Yes, hopefully Rhett can bring some of that family luck with championships to the Vikings.
• Former Gophers running back David Cobb scored his first NFL touchdown on Sunday while leading Tennessee in rushing with 73 yards on 19 carries in the Titans' 30-24 loss at Indianapolis. Cobb, a fifth-round pick in April, began the season on the injured reserve-designated to return list because of a calf injury but was activated in November.
• It was a disappointing end to the season for the Jets, who lost 22-17 at Buffalo when a victory would have clinched a playoff spot. But it was a successful second season with New York for former Gophers receiver Eric Decker. He finished with 12 TD catches in 15 games after catching only five TD passes last season. Decker and Brandon Marshall's set an NFL record by catching a touchdown pass in the same game nine times, including Sunday's season finale.
• A few Gophers men's hockey recruits are doing well in the United States Hockey League. Rem Pitlick entered Sunday leading the league in scoring with 33 points (18 goals, 15 assists) in 22 games for Muskegon. Ryan Zuhlsdorf was tied for the scoring lead for defensemen with 22 points, all assists, in 25 games for Sioux City. Brannon McManus was tied for the lead in scoring for Omaha with 19 points (nine goals, 10 assists) in 27 games.
• Former Gophers forward Kyle Rau is third in scoring for Portland of the American Hockey League with 22 points (15 goals, seven assists) in 31 games. … Also in the AHL, Rau's former college teammate Travis Boyd is tied for fourth in scoring for Hershey with 19 points (six goals, 13 assists) in 35 games. … Former Gophers defenseman Justin Holl has three goals and six assists in 26 games for the Toronto Marlies. … In nine games for Syracuse, former Gophers goalie Adam Wilcox has a 2-3-4 record with a 3.40 goals-against average and a .894 save percentage.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org