Vikings vs. Packers: Minnesota's Biggest Winners and Losers from Wild-Card Game

Bill Hubbell@@billyhubbellContributor IJanuary 6, 2013

Vikings vs. Packers: Minnesota's Biggest Winners and Losers from Wild-Card Game

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    The Minnesota Vikings' season ended in Green Bay Saturday night, losing 24-10 to the Packers in a game that was never in doubt after the first quarter.

    The biggest news from Saturday's game happened a few hours before, when Minnesota announced that Joe Webb would start at quarterback after Christian Ponder tested out his throwing elbow before the game and it was decided he couldn't play.

    It was clear to the Packers early on that Adrian Peterson was the only Vikings offensive player who could do any damage to them, and they did a pretty good job of bottling Peterson up—holding him under 100 yards after he had run for 409 yards in two games against them in December.

    For the Vikings, the season ends on a deflating note, but the simple fact that they made the playoffs just a year after finishing 3-13 is a major accomplishment.

    We take a look at the Vikings' biggest winners and losers following their season-ending loss to the Packers.

Winner: Christian Ponder

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    It's probably not a good thing when the first winner you can think of for the Vikings is a guy who didn't play in the game.

    For all of the Christian Ponder bashing that a lot of Vikings fans have done over the course of the season, we introduce you to the offense with Joe Webb at the helm. It wasn't pretty.

    This isn't to say that Ponder hasn't deserved plenty of bashing, he has. Ponder played terribly through the middle of the season and seemed to be regressing rather than showing improvement.

    Then, with four must-win games at the end of the season, Ponder started to manage the offense as well as he had in his career. He certainly wasn't setting the world on fire, but a light bulb had seemed to have turned on for him.

    He was efficient and basically mistake-free as the Vikings won out and made the playoffs.

    Ponder hurt his elbow against the Packers last week and after a week where he couldn't practice, it was decided Saturday that he couldn't play. The news was pretty surprising as most observers thought Ponder wasn't seriously hurt and they were just resting him for game day.

    Ponder had finished the game last Sunday, so how bad of an injury could it have been?

    It turned out to be worse than anybody knew.

    Ponder didn't play and the offense was pretty much ground to a halt.

    What this all adds up to is that Ponder will enter the 2013 season as the unquestioned starter. He was going to anyway, but if Joe Webb had played well and led an upset of the Packers Saturday night, all bets might have been off.

    It didn't happen.

Loser: Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave

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    Joe Webb is not a pocket passer.

    You know it, whoever you were watching the game with knows it and the Green Bay Packers certainly know it.

    It seemed that Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave didn't know it. 

    The Vikings' only effective drive before garbage time was their first, when they ran the ball with Adrian Peterson and Webb, and when throwing, they got Webb out on the edge where he could put some fear into the Packers defenders.

    After that, the Vikings seemed to abandon any type of offense that catered to Webb's strengths. They ran the offense like it was business as usual even though they were playing a guy who hadn't thrown a meaningful pass since August.

    The Vikings had the ball late in the first half and started off an important drive with a nice six-yard run yard by Peterson. Then, on a drive where the Vikings absolutely had to kill some clock to at least keep the Packers from getting the ball with substantial time remaining, the Vikings try a deep ball from Webb to Jerome Simpson. The odds of Webb completing a deep pass at that point were probably one in 10. It wasn't even close.

    The Vikings then basically had to throw on 3rd-and-4 and Webb was sacked for a loss of seven yards. The Packers then got the ball back with 1:48 left on the clock and marched right down the field for a late touchdown that stretched their lead to 17-3 and the game was basically over.

    Why not run Peterson on 2nd-and-4 after he'd just busted a six-yard run? The Vikings badly needed at least one first down on that possession to kill off the clock.

    The second half continued with the Vikings trying to use Webb as a pocket passer. It was comically bad at times. Not a good performance from the Vikings' offensive coaches.

Winner: Harrison Smith

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    It was a long night for the Minnesota Vikings.

    The offense never got untracked and the defensive front just couldn't get the pressure on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers like they did last Sunday.

    Rodgers ended up setting a playoff record by completing passes to 10 different players, but for most of the first half he was having trouble finding anybody open other than his safety valve, usually running back DeJuan Harris, who ended up with five catches for 53 yards.

    All of that is to say that the Vikings secondary hung in there as long as it could, often blanketing the Packers receivers for seven or eight seconds. Rodgers was certainly the best player on the field Saturday night, but Vikings safety Harrison Smith might have been the next best.

    Smith was all over the field, coming up with not just eight tackles, but two for loss and a pass defended near the Vikings goal line. Smith was bringing the heat all game long, not just making tackles, but punishing anyone on the Packers he came across.

    The Vikings traded away a pick and moved up in last spring's draft in order to get Smith and they haven't regretted it for a second. Smith is an old-fashioned, hard-nosed football player and he'll anchor the Vikings secondary for years to come.

Loser: Joe Webb

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    Joe Webb took three snaps during the 2012 season and didn't throw a pass, becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to start a playoff game after not attempting a throw during the regular season.

    It's a long way from throwing balls in meaningless exhibition games in August to a Saturday night playoff game at Lambeau Field in January.

    It was nearly impossible to expect Joe Webb to come off the bench and save the day in the Vikings' biggest game of the year. He didn't.

    Webb has had his share of supporters among Vikings fans, backup quarterbacks always do. The prevailing thought among football fans is that the unknown surely must be better than the poor play they're seeing on the field.

    Maybe not.

    Webb is a good athlete, a good runner and has a strong arm. He's just not an NFL quarterback.

    He threw some nice slant passes during the game and he threw them with an assuredness that we still haven't seen from Christian Ponder. Other than that, he was a complete disaster. He had zero pocket presence and was missing receivers by yards, not feet.

Winner: Adrian Peterson

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    There seemed to be Packers everywhere every time Adrian Peterson touched the football.

    The Packers had learned, after giving up 409 yards rushing to Peterson in two games, that he was more than just the engine that moves the Vikings offense—he was just about everything the purple had under the hood.

    Peterson never had anywhere to go on Saturday night and it seemed like he could just never get untracked.

    He rushed for 99 yards on 22 carries. That's a pretty darn good playoff game for a mortal.

    Peterson has so spoiled Vikings fans of late that a 99-yard rushing game seems like a poor one.

    Peterson has been so dominant recently that the over/under betting line on him in Las Vegas was 125.5 yards. In a playoff game. Peterson has been so shockingly good over the last two months that it looked like a no-brainer to take the over.

    Peterson didn't break free Saturday night, but he never quit. When 99 yards against a very good run defense feels like a letdown, you've raised the expectation bar not just to the ceiling, but through the roof and off into outer space.

Loser: The Vikings Receivers

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    It's certainly not news that the Vikings have a less-than-average wide receiver corps. Without Percy Harvin, they might be the worst group in the NFL.

    They didn't do anything to dispel that notion on Saturday night against the Packers.

    After getting his surprise start, Joe Webb absolutely needed some open receivers in order to be effective in Green Bay. He didn't get any.

    The Vikings receivers caught seven passes Saturday night, several of them in garbage time. Granted, they weren't getting a lot of great balls thrown their way, but none of them were getting any separation at all.

    A quarterback who hasn't played all season certainly can't be expected to be sharp, but at least give him some targets.

    The Vikings biggest offseason need is at wide receiver. Jarius Wright might be the only one on the roster who's back with the team in 2013.

Winner: The Vikings' 2012 Season

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    Things ended poorly in Green Bay on Saturday night as the Vikings were completely outclassed by the Packers in a 24-10 game that never felt that close after the first quarter.

    In the end, the Packers only outgained the Vikings by two yards, but the Packers always seemed to be able to get yards when they needed to and the Vikings never could.

    Saturday's disappointment aside, the Vikings have a lot to be proud of as an organization. Nobody in their wildest dreams could have expected a 10-6 regular season and a playoff berth a year after bottoming out at 3-13 in 2011.

    The Vikings had a fantastic draft class and found at least five guys who will be big contributors for years to come.

    The quarterback struggled for most of the season and is still very much a work in progress, but he at least showed signs of life down the stretch when the Vikings won four straight games to qualify for the playoffs.

    The Vikings have raised the bar for expectations a lot sooner than anyone could have hoped for.

Loser: Jasper Brinkley and Erin Henderson

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    Jasper Brinkley and Erin Henderson are both about to hit the free-agent market. They didn't make very convincing final arguments.

    Henderson ended up with eight tackles and had couple of big hits, but looked completely lost in pass coverage, getting beat time and time again by DeJuan Harris out of the backfield.

    Brinkley looked completely lost for the entire game, highlighted by his trying to get off the field on a Packers field goal attempt, which led to a too many men on the field penalty at a crippling moment.

    To be fair, both Brinkley and Henderson had their moments this season, but neither one of them earned themselves a big contract for next year. The Vikings need help at linebacker.