GREEN BAY, Wis. – The most favorable matchup for the Vikings on Sunday night was right defensive end Everson Griffen against the Packers' latest makeshift plans to protect Aaron Rodgers' blind side.
Griffen didn't disappoint. He had six tackles, two sacks and the play of the game when he beat guard-turned-left tackle Josh Sitton to force the Rodgers fumble that cornerback Captain Munnerlyn returned 55 yards for a touchdown and a 20-3 third-quarter lead en route to the 20-13 NFC North title-clinching victory.
"In all fairness to Josh, he was playing against their best player," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.
That's saying a lot, especially on a night when Adrian Peterson became the eighth player in NFL history to win at least three rushing titles. But as good as Peterson is, the Vikings' identity heading into the playoffs centers around a defense that rescued the offense and special teams throughout the second half at Lambeau Field.
"We were gassed, but you got to suck it up," Griffen said of the second half, which saw the Packers run 27 more plays (46-19), double the Vikings in time of possession (19:59-9:01) and still get outscored 14-10.
The half started with the Vikings defense forcing two three-and-outs. Sandwiched in between was their most efficient drive of the day: 58 yards in six plays, capped by Peterson's 11th touchdown of the season.
The Green Bay defense was off balance as the Vikings mixed things up on first down. They threw an 11-yard pass to Jarius Wright, ran Peterson twice for gains of 10 and 5 yards, and used a gadget run call that enabled receiver Adam Thielen to run for 26 yards around right end.
However, after Peterson's touchdown, the offense and special teams became a burden. Teddy Bridgewater threw an ill-advised pass — lefthanded, no less — into traffic and was intercepted.Griffen erased that miscue with his strip sack that Munnerlyn scored on.
"I faked [Sitton] inside and came outside," Griffen said. "When you love this game, you find a way."
Sitton usually starts at left guard. But left tackle David Bakhtiari missed his second game in a row because of an ankle injury. And rather than give Don Barclay another start after he gave up four sacks the week before, McCarthy tried something new.
Griffen's second sack was more impressive from an athletic standpoint. With the Packers in the red zone and trailing by 10 in the fourth quarter, Griffen beat Sitton with a speed rush and then kept going when Rodgers left the pocket.
The Packers settled for a 43-yard field goal and never could catch up. Even when Vikings kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson had a 71-yard return, only to be stripped of the ball by kicker Mason Crosby.
Once again, the Packers were on the move. But once again it would end in favor of the Vikings. Under pressure, Rodgers was intercepted in the end zone by Xavier Rhodes. After the offense nearly fumbled the ball back yet again, the defense, fittingly, closed it out by batting down a Hail Mary with no time left.
Griffen finished the regular season with 10½ sacks, his second year in a row with double digits since replacing Jared Allen as the starter.
"When Everson comes off the ball like he does, it's amazing," Munnerlyn said. "I know it makes my job a whole lot easier."