GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — DuJuan Harris and John Kuhn had short touchdown runs, and Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers took a 17-3 lead over the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday night in their NFC wild-card playoff game.
Christian Ponder was inactive for the Vikings because of a right elbow injury so Joe Webb started at quarterback for the first time all season, and Rodgers made the passing gap between the two teams even wider. Rodgers went 14 for 18 for 205 yards, leading scoring drives of 82 and 62 yards.
With Adrian Peterson being boxed in by a fired-up Packers defense that he gashed for 409 yards rushing over the previous two meetings this season, Webb had to go to work in his first start of the season. The early results weren’t pretty. Webb tripped over Clay Matthews to give the Packers star an easy sack, and he was called for intentional grounding while being swarmed behind the line of scrimmage on the next play.
Webb ran four times for 43 yards, but he completed only three of his 12 attempts before halftime for a measly 22 yards. Peterson gained 48 yards on 12 carries.
Rodgers, who entered the game with the NFL’s best postseason passer rating in history at 105.5 after seven previous playoff appearances, was in prime form. After a fourth straight punt by the Vikings, Rodgers got the Packers from their 38-yard line to the Minnesota 3 in three plays. He rolled right and threw a zinger to Jordy Nelson in the final minute of the first half to set up Kuhn’s plunge.
On the previous drive, Rodgers found Greg Jennings open on fourth-and-5, and Jennings spun around Chris Cook to sprint up the sideline and reach the Vikings 2. Mason Crosby’s field goal pushed the lead to 10-3.
Rodgers went 4 for 4 on the first scoring drive for the Packers, who used their hurry-up, no-huddle scheme they weren’t able to make work in the noisy Metrodome last Sunday. The Vikings won that game 37-34 to force the rematch, the third time these border rivals have met in a five-week span.
The Vikings used a 33-yard field goal by rookie Blair Walsh on the opening possession to get in front early. Webb ran for 17 yards on third-and-3 to keep the drive alive, but his underthrow to Michael Jenkins bounced well short on third down to set up the kick.
Rodgers had his top four receivers healthy together for the first time since September, with Jennings, Nelson, Randall Cobb and James Jones all set to go against a Vikings secondary that had trouble keeping up in their game last week after veteran cornerback Antoine Winfield left with a broken right hand. Winfield returned for this one, but his ability to play his usual physical style was in question.
Rodgers focused more on his running backs early. Harris caught two passes for 28 yards and Ryan Grant had a 16-yard reception to put the Packers in position to take the lead. The on-field ruling on the scoring run by Harris was that he was down at the 1, but Packers coach Mike McCarthy challenged the play, and the call was reversed.
For Rodgers, this game was another benchmark in his stellar career. Despite leading the Packers to a Super Bowl championship after the 2010 season, he had yet to win a playoff game at Lambeau Field. After rolling through the regular season at 15-1 in 2011, the Packers were upset here in their first postseason game by the eventual champion New York Giants. But Rodgers, despite all the injuries to his receivers this year, posted the NFL’s best passer rating for the second year in a row.
Webb became the first quarterback in 20 years to start a playoff game without starting any games during that regular season since Frank Reich did so for Buffalo, according to STATS. Reich led the Bills to their famous comeback victory over Houston that year.
These teams squared off for the second time in seven days, so there wasn’t much either side could do to surprise the other — except, perhaps, make a quarterback switch just before the game.
After preparing all week for Ponder, whose second-year struggles peaked in a loss here on Dec. 2 when he threw two interceptions inside the Green Bay 20-yard line, the Packers defense suddenly faced a totally different player in Webb.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound sixth-round draft pick in 2010 was athletic enough to play some wide receiver at Alabama-Birmingham and even take a few turns there with the Vikings last year before becoming a full-time quarterback this season as the backup to Ponder.
Webb had three starts over his first two NFL seasons, the first coming at Philadelphia on Dec. 28, 2010. The Vikings beat the playoff-bound Eagles that night 24-14, and Webb passed for 195 yards and ran for a touchdown.
Ponder was hurt last Sunday when Packers safety Morgan Burnett delivered a jarring hit on a blitz, but he finished the game with a career-high 120.2 passer rating and three touchdowns in the 37-34 win. His elbow just didn’t improve enough during the week, however, for the Vikings to put him in.
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