Your Minnesota Vikings are the 2015 NFC North Champions. AND IT WAS NEVER IN DOUBT!
OK maybe a little bit in doubt. Like "took ten years off my life and I'm still kind of shaking as I write this" in doubt.
In a way this final game at Lambeau was a perfect microcosm of the 2015 Minnesota Vikings season. The offense would look efficient and dangerous for spurts but then disappear for stretches thanks to poor blocking and inconsistent quarterback play. The defense was the backbone of the team and capitalized on their opportunities. And just when things started looking bleak and you thought it was going to be "the same old Vikings" all over again, they rallied and came away victorious.
Like the rest of the season, it wasn't always pretty. But in the end, the Vikings persevered and won the NFC North.
And that's a really nice thing. Now this really big team gets a home playoff game comin' with no road trip strings to start a quest for some really big rings.
What a time to be alive.
Cause I got a really big team
And they need some really big rings
They need some really nice things
Better be comin' with no strings
Better be comin' with no strings
We need some really nice things
We need some really big rings
I got a really big team
Man what a time to be alive
You and yours vs. me and mine
Are we talkin' teams? Are we talkin' teams?
Oh you switchin' sides? Wanna come with me?
Onto the NFC NORTH CHAMPION stocks!
Blue Chip Stocks
Everson Griffen. Griff was an absolute beast tonight. He was always causing trouble and drawing lots of attention. (And getting held by Josh Sitton on every other play, but I digress.) Griffen racked up six total tackles, two sacks, and was also the catalyst for the game's biggest play, an Aaron Rodgers fumble returned for a touchdown by Captain Munnerlyn.
On a defense full of players that shined bright on Sunday night, Griffen's star outshone them all.
Xaiver Rhodes. Rhodes certainly has a penchant for finishing off seasons in style. After an amazing finish to the 2014 campaign, Rhodes has been up and down for most of this season. On Sunday, the Rhodes were definitely closed. He defended a lot of potential big plays and chose an excellent time for his second career interception.
Eric Kendricks. I lost count of how many important open field tackles Kendricks made tonight. Every time the Vikings defense made a big stop it seemed like #54 was right in the middle of it. The Packers would have had several more first downs if it wasn't for the rookie's sound fundamentals. Thank you, UCLA football, for churning out such amazing linebackers. The future is bright with Kendricks and Anthony Barr flying all over the field.
Mike Zimmer. Throughout the season, Zim has probably been the most important Blue Chipper of them all. In just two seasons he has completely changed the culture in Minnesota. The Vikings head coach has instilled a mindset and will that the Vikings haven't possessed in decades. His tough-love, no-nonsense approach to mixing in savvy, dependable veterans with a bevy of young, impressionable talent has been a master class of how to build a team for both the present and the future. This team has been checking off tasks that haven't been completed in years. Winning on the road. Winning at Chicago. Winning when everything wasn't clicking. Winning with defense. Winning in prime time. And on Sunday night, Zimmer and his troops went into the home state of Making A Murderer and murdered the ruling NFC North dynasty in their own backyard. Thank you, Coach Zimmer. The Vikings wouldn't be here without you.
Adam Thielen. Adrian Peterson won the third rushing title of his career on Sunday night but he had to settle for a tie in the game rushing title. Both AP and Thielen finished with 67 yards rushing and Thielen only needed two attempts to do so. Thielen also chipped in with a 16 yard reception. The 2014 Mr. Mankato is a Swiss Army Knife that the Vikings can use all over the offense and special teams.
Blair Walsh. Walsh didn't miss any of his four kicks and blasted most of his kickoffs for touchbacks. After an incredibly shaky start to the season Walsh has seemed to settle back into his more familiar role of being incredibly reliable. (And if he misses a kick in the postseason, don't yell at me for jinxing him.)
Harrison Smith. The non-Pro Bowler put in another Pro Bowl performance, picking up half a sack and playing his usual role of do-everything stopper for the Vikings defense. Smith is the glue that holds the back end of the D together.
Jerick McKinnon. Jet was the team's leading receiver (albeit with only 3 receptions and 33 yards) and provided an important spark when Peterson went out with a lower back injury. Seattle better see a lot of #31 in the playoffs because he makes the offense much more dynamic every time he's out there.
T.J. Clemmings. You know who we didn't hear a lot from this evening? The Vikings rookie right tackle. You know why? Because he had a pretty damn good game. I have included Clemmings in the Stock Market Report several times this season but usually for all the wrong reasons. Outside of a missed block on a toss play I didn't notice any glaring slip-ups from Clemmings.
And any time you go full Liu Kang on Clay Matthews, that makes you a solid investment.
Cordarrelle Patterson. CP has exactly one job on this team: return kickoffs. That shouldn't be hard for a first round pick with a ton of athleticism. Right?
So he made a mistake. A very costly, careless mistake, but it's not like he was trying to sabotage a chance at putting the game away. Maybe Mason Crosby was just in his head after drawing a dumb penalty on Patterson the last time these two teams played.
What irks me the most is that every time the NBC cameras cut to Patterson after the fumble he was smiling and joking around. I'm not saying he needs to sit on the bench and pout the rest of the game, but what the hell Cordarrelle? Acting like it's a blowout or a preseason game should piss your teammates off, not just the fans.
That said, Patterson was the only person to score against the Seahawks last time around, so we might as well keep using his services while he's still around. Which shouldn't be after this season.
Matt Kalil. I'm starting to wonder if injuries are starting to linger with him again because he is starting to look a lot slower protecting around the edge. It's not that he's getting beat--that will happen from time to time even to the best left tackles. It's how he's getting beat--with simple speed rushes around the end. The first matchup with the Seahawks was an abject disaster for the entire offensive line; Kalil will have to play better this time around for the offense to stand a chance.
Teddy Bridgewater. Teddy had a real opportunity to establish himself in the biggest game of the season. Instead he finished the game with 99 yards passing. Bridgewater missed two touchdowns on the first drive by overthrowing wide open receivers on deep passes. But that paled in comparison to what has to be worst play of his young career:
There's no excuse for trying to go full Favre with a ten point lead in the third quarter. But at least Teddy realizes how dumb that left-handed interception was. After tweeting about what a great team win it was for the Vikings, he subtweeted himself with this gem:
Just don't ever do that again Teddy!— Teddy Bridgewater (@teddyb_h2o) January 4, 2016
Amen, Teddy. Bring your A game next week, because your team is going to need it against Seattle.
Terence Newman. Newman has had an excellent season but this game certainly wasn't his best work. He missed a couple big tackles and got caught in coverage by James Jones a handful of times. I hate to sound like a broken record here but he'll need to play a lot better against the Seattle receivers.
Buy: That fake punt on the first drive! What a smart call to set the tone and get three important points on the team's first drive.
Buy: Mixing it up a bit more on first down. The Vikings ran the ball 15 times on first down and passed seven times. That might seem a little lopsided until you realize they ran the ball on 41 of 47 first downs over the past two weeks. Being overly predictable will be a death knell for the Vikings offense against the dangerous Seahawks defense next week.
Sell: Clock management at the end of the first half. Again. The Vikings faced 4th and 2 at the Packers 43 with :15 seconds remaining. If you're planning on going for it, calling a timeout is fine. If you're planning on trying a really long field goal or launching a Hail Mary, let the clock run down to a few seconds left. But calling a timeout with :15 left then getting a delay of game penalty? The coaching staff and the players better run through end-of-half/game scenarios a whole bunch this week because they need everyone on the same page pronto.
Buy: The Sharrif Floyd mic drop. I don't need to explain this one do I?
Sell: Losing Rhett Ellison. Learning that he tore his patella tendon and will miss the postseason is big news. Ellison will never light up the box score but he is quietly one of the more crucial players on the Vikings offense. His blocking in both the pass and run game will be hard to make up for.
Buy: The defense holding strong even though they were completely gassed. When the Packers suddenly started moving the ball in the fourth quarter it wasn't because Rodgers and company had finally "figured it out" or were "turning it on late." It was because the defense was exhausted! They spent about 60% of the game on the field, including 8:35 of the last ten minutes of the game. It was truly an amazing effort by a defense that was frankly forced to do too much tonight.
Sell: Ragnar. As you may have heard, a certain entitled former mascot switched allegiances before the game in a desperate attempt to stay relevant. And now the Packers are 0-1 with Ragnar as a fan. Good riddance Benedict Ragnold.
Buy: A home playoff game. Yes, the Seahawks look poised to make a third straight Super Bowl run. Yes, the Vikings were humbled at home by Seattle a month ago. But like I said in my preview on Thursday, this is the playoffs. There aren't going to be any cupcake matchups anymore so you might as well play the tough teams at home. The Redskins are playing really well over the past five games and I don't know if my heart could handle another game like that in Green Bay. Winning a division title and finally shutting up the folks to the east of us is the most satisfying outcome possible, Wild Card opponent be damned. So bring on the Seahawks and let's see what happens next Sunday at noon.
(Besides, who in their right mind wants to go to Lambeau two weeks in a row in January? Even if Teddy Bridgewater has never lost there.)
Gemma Thompson Quote of the Day
I went to a friend's house to watch the game tonight. My family was going to come with but my wife decided that she wanted a quiet night with the girls before returning to work from maternity leave on Monday morning. So before I headed out I put the girls in their Vikings jammies and got ready to leave. Before I left I asked my older daughter a very important question: "Are the Vikings gonna win tonight Gemma?"
"Yep! Skoohhh Vikings, less Gooo!"
And then she blew me a kiss goodbye. Just like the Packers kissed the NFC North title goodbye.