It’s been 15 days since the Vikings last played a game. Maybe that explains why tonight’s Packers-Vikings match-up feels bigger than your usual Packers-Vikings Monday nighter. 15 days of building anticipation is liable to make any game seem slightly inflated in importance.
But of course the two week build-up isn’t the only reason Viking fans are so stoked for this game. There’s also the man lining up behind center. Christian Ponder has engendered a level of optimism not seen around these parts since 2009 when Brett Favre flew in with his protein bucket to save us from the tyranny of Childress. Pondermonium is in full effect and with good reason: the last time Ponder played the Packers he nearly led a comeback victory. Since then Ponder has notched his first win as a starter, and has – by some people – officially been anointed the Vikings’ savior.
So frenzied is Pondermonium that some even have themselves convinced the kid will lead the Vikings to an upset win tonight in Lambeau. Realistically though, the Vikings’ chances of ending the Packers’ winning streak are slim at best. The Packers right now are an offensive machine to match and perhaps even surpass the great offenses of recent years. Time will tell where the Aaron Rodgers-led Packers ultimately rank, but right now they have to be placed at least in the same company as the Patriots of Brady and Moss, the Greatest Show on Turf Rams and the ’98 Vikings. In the last 25 years, there have been fewer more explosive offensive attacks.
The Vikings got a big taste of that devastating offense the last time the two teams played. What evened things out slightly for Minnesota was Adrian Peterson’s running and Christian Ponder’s ability to convert third downs. And when the Packers had a chance to really blow the Vikings out, the Vikes were able to get a couple of big sacks on Aaron Rodgers and hold them to field goals. The Vikings still lost but they didn’t lose nearly as convincingly as most expected. Ponder had laurels heaped on him as if he’d just won Super Bowl MVP, even though in reality his performance was only okay.
If the Vikings want to surpass their effort of three weeks ago and actually beat the Packers, they will need more of everything they had going for them at the Metrodome. More Adrian Peterson weaving through the porous Packers defense. More Christian Ponder grittiness. More big plays on the defensive side of the ball. And they will have to do all of this in hostile territory outdoors in the elements in the face of a relentless Packer offense led by arguably the best quarterback in the NFL.
Did I say “arguably?” Let’s not mince words: Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the NFL, period. But it’s not just Rodgers – the Packers now have the most complete offense in the NFL. They can beat you deep, beat you short, beat you outside and inside. They can get on top of you with the pass then slow down and grind out yards with James Starks to secure the win. The only way the Packers lose is if they start hurting themselves with turnovers. It’s a cliche but in this case it’s completely true: only the Packers can stop the Packers.
Unfortunately for the Packers, lately their defense can’t stop anyone. That defense has been good enough to win 8 in a row this year, but even so, many are nervous about the way things have been going, including Charles Woodson who voiced concerns about the defensive performance after the team’s win over San Diego. At the Metrodome Adrian Peterson tore up the Packers run defense to the tune of 175 yards, but the running attack won’t tell the story tonight, it will be the passing game. Christian Ponder can’t throw two picks again like last time. Instead of merely being efficient on third down, he has to play a more complete game, hitting big plays on earlier downs as well.
The Vikings defense won’t be able to stop the Packers but maybe they can slow them down enough to keep the offense in it, and maybe the Packers will give us a gift in the form of a big turnover. There is a way to beat the Packers tonight: All the Vikings have to do is play a near-perfect game and have the Packers shoot themselves in the foot. Whatever happens, the Vikings’ new hero Christian Ponder will have to be in the middle of things. This isn’t a game you win by handing the ball off to Adrian 30 times and telling your QB to just not make any mistakes. If Ponder is really worthy of the hype, he needs to prove it tonight.