by Patrick P. Marek
Lambeau Field sure looks good in purple … and the acoustics are perfect for SKOL chants. Who knew? Maybe it was the frigid temperatures, the fact that Aaron Rodgers and most of the team were not playing, or that Packer fans aren’t accustomed to showing up and supporting an abysmal team, but almost 40 percent of the seats in Saturday’s 16-0 shutout were occupied by boisterous purple-clad Vikings fans who were obviously not feeling the cold (or any pain). Unfortunately for Green Bay, the Packers’ players also failed to show up for the game, giving little interest or resistance to trying to revenge Rodgers’ injury or Green Bays’ first thumping at the hands of the Vikings.
If you talk to Packers fans these days most of the conversation is likely to revolve around the price of cheese, Aaron Rodgers’ health, and what it will take to get Ted Thompson, Dom Capers, and Mike McCarthy fired. These are angry fans, and they have good reasons. Rodgers’ injury exposed an alarming lack of depth beyond the starting cast, as well as the “old school” holes in the knees of McCarthy’s coaching performance.
For Viking fans, what a difference a year makes. Last season the Vikings ruined Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas … and barely managed to salvage New Year’s Eve with a meaningless win against the Bears. This year Minnesota was not only dominating in the friendly confines of their earsplitting U.S. Bank home, they were able to take their Holidazzle Parade on the road, finally defeating the Lions on Thanksgiving, and pelting the Packers with lumps of frozen coal on December 23 at Lambeau Field.
The only holiday left this season is New Year’s, and Minnesota has made a resolution to destroy the hapless Bears and send their fans into 2018 with a first-round bye and possibly home field advantage all the way to the Super Bowl. Sure the Eagles would have to lose early in the playoffs to make that happen, but Minnesota has a built up a huge reservoir of luck and positive karma after all the suffering the team and fans have endured over the years. If this team gets to play all of its playoff games at home … would you bet against them? With a world-class defense, an efficient, mostly mistake-free offense, and the loudest fans on the planet, U.S. Bank Stadium has become a house of horrors for visiting teams.
There was a lot to like about Saturday’s victory, but it wasn’t one of those games you would want to DVR and watch over and over. The skin-numbing temperatures and sloppy turf slowed down the Minnesota offense and put the Packers into cryrogenic animation. Harrison Smith should have been voted into his third Pro-Bowl last week, and on Saturday, he played, not only like an All-Pro, but like the potential Defensive Player of the Year. Harry “The Hit Man” Smith was all over the field, snuffing out key run attempts at the line of scrimmage and killing the Packers’ faint scoring hopes with two timely interceptions. Tre Waynes, Xavier Rhodes, and Eric Kendricks all had great games, but it’s hard to pick out anyone who didn’t excel on defense as the Vikings notched their first shutout in 24 years.
As for the offense? Did we mention that it was very, very cold? Case Keenum had a workmanlike, mistake-free game, but he was aided by a long pass interference penalty to Stefon Diggs, and some interceptions that were missed by the depleted Packers secondary. Kai Forbath was the real hero of the game, blasting the frozen football through the uprights for three field goals, including a 49-yarder on Minnesota’s first possession. The offensive line didn’t give Keenum much protection, or the running backs holes to race through. Left guard Nick Easton suffered a broken ankle, and is out for the rest of the season. Jeremiah Sirles replaced Easton and will join Riley Reiff, Pat Elflein, Joe Berger, and Mike Remmers on a line that was intact on Saturday for the first time in a month.
Although the Vikings’ offense wasn’t exactly dazzling, they did what good teams do. They scored enough to put away a bad team under very difficult conditions. This Vikings team is well coached, deep, and talented. They are also 12-3 and have at least two more home games at U.S. Bank field. If the fans could make Lambeau Field rock with SKOL chants, imagine what volume records they will achieve in their home stadium. Next week, if you are watching from home, turn the volume up, and if you are lucky enough to attend in person, make sure to wear ear protection, and, as always … stay purple my friends.