Vikings inch closer to bye with shutout of Packers

By Nick Shook
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The Minnesota Vikings (12-3) shut down the Green Bay Packers 16-0 in a one-sided rivalry meeting on Saturday at frigid Lambeau Field. Here’s what we learned:

1. If the Packers (7-8) had won last week and kept Aaron Rodgers active, perhaps this would have been exciting. Instead, Minnesota did what it does best: play lockdown defense, harass the passer and score enough to win. Case Keenum‘s best pass of the night came on one he threw while fading back and to his left under pressure to a crossing Stefon Diggs, who toe-tapped beautifully and ended up in the tunnel at Lambeau Field for six. That was the unifying moment of this night: While a tunnel jaunt brought joy to Green Bay in Week 14, it was the beginning of frustration for the same group in Week 16.

Offensively speaking, this wasn’t a thrilling night for either side. It was cold, passes were dropped, others were errant, and the field itself was rather slippery. Keenum wasn’t as sharp as usual, but it didn’t matter much, thanks to Minnesota’s dominance of Green Bay’s punchless offense. The lone lowlight for Minnesota tonight: Guard Nick Easton left with a fractured ankle that coach Mike Zimmer said will require surgery. Fortunately, these Vikings have shown they can weather injuries along the offensive line. They’ll have to do it again.

2. Brett Hundley is the 2017 version of good job, good effort. The quarterback made more of an impact with his winding, weaving scrambles through Minnesota’s defense than he did with his arm, though it wasn’t all his fault. On at least three occasions, Hundley put passes on his receivers, who dropped them or whiffed on catch attempts (Lance Kendricks was a repeat offender) in the digit-numbing conditions at Lambeau. After watching Indianapolis’ Jacoby Brissett fire errant passes left and right in the earlier game, Hundley was a little bit sharper, but didn’t produce better results.

In a night scattered with ugly throws, the worst was the red-zone interception, which was just flat-out bad. If we really want to remember this game, we’ll recall the many times he floated around like Aaron Rodgers but didn’t complete Rodgers-eqsue passes. This isn’t good, either:

3. Play-calling didn’t exactly help Hundley either. On fourth-and-3 inside Minnesota’s 15, Hundley threw a back-shoulder fade to Michael Clark, who legitimately grabbed for air after the ball was past him. There was a drag route run underneath that was open and would have earned Green Bay a fresh set of downs, but it was evident the design didn’t call for Hundley to look there early enough. For a team that struggled mightily to get close to the end zone all night, that all-or-nothing call was mystifying.

We can also add in the effect injuries had on this Packers team. Green Bay lost right tackle Jason Spriggs early in the first and proceeded to lose Aaron JonesJordy Nelson and Richard Rodgersthroughout the course of the game — none of whom returned.

4. Harrison Smith should be in the Pro Bowl. I didn’t include him in our snubs piece because I didn’t want to make two of five NFC snubs Vikings, but he should be in there. Smith provided us plenty of evidence for his case on Saturday night, especially with his interception of Hundley, which halted Green Bay’s best shot at a touchdown and highlighted his closing speed as he undercut a route over the middle that was doomed, whether by Smith or fellow safety Andrew Sendejo.

It’s excellent stuff, and exactly what we’ve come to expect from the NFC North champs, who are showing no signs of slowing, even in what was as close as we’ll get these days to the Frozen Tundra (John Facenda voice).

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