MINNEAPOLIS — The Green Bay Packers aren’t just going back to the playoffs. They’re going back as NFC North champs. A week after they ensured they’d end their two-year playoff drought, they wrapped up their first division title since 2016.
By doing so with their 23-10 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Monday, they assured that they won’t have to come back to U.S. Bank Stadium in the playoffs. Before Monday, they had never won in the building.
It wasn’t pretty until the fourth quarter, when Aaron Jones scored the second of his two touchdowns to run his season total to an NFL-leading 19. Then again, when it wasn’t Jones or Davante Adams, it hasn’t been pretty on offense for a good portion of the Packers’ 12-3 season.
“Winning is always beautiful,” Aaron Rodgers said after the game. “Defense wins NFC North championships.”
The Packers celebrated Monday’s win by wearing hats that said NFC North champions and T-shirts that read “The North is not enough.” Rodgers said two weeks ago that he “wouldn’t mind winning ugly all the way to the Super Bowl.”
— Green Bay Packers (@packers) December 24, 2019
For a while, this one looked like it would qualify as another step along that path.
“But there’s a lot of emphasis on looking pretty or dominating in a way that befits your explanation,” Rodgers said. “But I thought [that] was a really good performance for us. We had good balance, we ran the ball well, we just turned it over three times. But it doesn’t matter how we get it done as long as we get it done. In games where our defense isn’t as locked down as they are now, we’ve got to find ways to put points on the board, but the good thing is the mistakes really on our side, things we just haven’t done at times, there’s going to be a time when we need to make those plays, and I expect to.”
The Packers turned the ball over three times in the first half. It was their second three-turnover game of the season. Both came on Monday Night Football, the previous being in Week 6 against the Lions.
Week 6 was when Rodgers last threw an interception before Monday. He had a streak of 277 straight passes without one until he badly underthrew Adams on a pass into the hands of Vikings safety Anthony Harris in the second quarter. That ended the second-longest interception-free streak of Rodgers’ career. He once threw 402 passes without a pick, which remains the longest such streak in NFL history.
The Packers had allowed 29 points off turnovers entering the game, the second-fewest in the league, behind only the Vikings’ tally (26). The Vikings’ first 10 points came off turnovers (Jones’ fumble and Rodgers’ pick).
Rodgers couldn’t get much going deep, especially early. He completed just one of eight passes on throws of more than 10 yards in the first half, tied for his second-worst half since 2008 (minimum eight attempts), according to ESPN Stats & Information research. The one he completed was fumbled away by Adams.
It was Rodgers’ third game this season without a touchdown pass, though the Packers have won all three. Entering this season, the Packers were 4-10 when Rodgers fails to throw a touchdown. Monday’s game marked the first time Rodgers won a game in which he threw an interception and no touchdowns.
“It has not been easy,” Packers right tackle Bryan Bulaga said. “There’s been ups and downs, there’s been tight [games], but today’s game, I feel like, was kind of a view of the entire season all in one game. First half on offense, we turned the ball over three downs, but then our defense keeps us in the thing and plays unbelievable, and then we come out in the second half and run the hell out of the ball and control the clock and end up winning the football game. It’s kind of a reflection of the season and what we’ve done.”
Aaron Jones runs untouched into the end zone as the Packers grab the lead over the Vikings on the road in the second half.
Thanks to Jones’ 23 carries for 154 yards with two touchdowns and Adams’ 13 catches for 116 yards — and thanks to Za’Darius Smith, whose monster season included a monster game Monday, with 3.5 sacks as part of a seven-tackle (five for loss) game — the Packers survived without the best day from Rodgers.
“Feels great to win these kinds of games. These are playoff-style games — obviously, we’re both going to the playoffs,” Rodgers said. “But to be back on top of the North after a couple years of being down, feels great to win it in this stadium, where a couple of years ago, I was jeered leaving the field after breaking my collarbone. Feels pretty good.”
Still, the Packers will face questions about how much damage — if any — they can do in the postseason. As division champs, they are guaranteed at least one postseason game at Lambeau Field, but if the season ends the way it stands now, the Packers would have the No. 2 seed in the NFC. With that come a first-round bye and a divisional-round game at home. Also, the Packers are still in play for the top overall seed in the NFC. If they win the regular-season finale at Detroit and the San Francisco 49ers lose at Seattle on Sunday, the Packers would earn the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
That’s not bad for a team that wins ugly.