Packers running backs go on a roll vs Vikings
By Gary D’Amato, Journal-Sentinel
~GREEN BAY – The Minnesota Vikings were intent on playing Cover 2 defense and minimizing the impact of the Green Bay Packers’ receivers in an NFC wild-card playoff game Saturday night.
But the Vikings couldn’t cover everybody.
Time and again, running backs DuJuan Harris and John Kuhn got open in the flats and over the middle and quarterback Aaron Rodgers found them with check-down passes.
Harris caught five of six targeted passes for 53 yards and Kuhn caught two of three for 15, including a 9-yard touchdown, as the Packers pulled away to a satisfying 24-10 victory at Lambeau Field.
“That’s just kind of the way it unfolded,” Kuhn said. “They were playing us in Cover 2, really dropping and trying to take our receivers away. They did a good job at the dome last week (a 37-34 Vikings victory in the regular-season finale) and that was obviously their game plan.
“So we knew we had to pick it up on our end.”
The running backs carried their share of the load, and then some.
Harris also rushed 17 times for 47 yards, Kuhn had three carries for 4 yards and Ryan Grant had seven carries for 7 yards. Randall Cobb also had two carries for 6 yards.
The rushing numbers weren’t spectacular – 76 total yards in 31 attempts – but that total was misleading because the Packers were running out the clock in the fourth quarter and the Vikings knew what was coming.
Earlier in the game, it was a different story.
Rodgers repeatedly made Minnesota pay for dropping coverage by flicking short passes to Harris. The first time, Harris dropped the ball on what would have been a substantial gain.
“I should have had that one,” he said. “It hit me in the hands and if it hits both of my hands I need to get it. I’m glad (Rodgers) came back to me. I couldn’t let it happen again.”
He didn’t, catching three passes for 35 yards in the first half and scoring Green Bay’s first touchdown on a 9-yard run.
Harris’ touchdown was set up by a well-executed 16-yard screen pass from Rodgers to Grant.
“DuJuan did great in the first half, really carrying the load there with the check-downs, getting a lot of first downs, moving the chains,” Kuhn said. “Ryan Grant, too, with the screen pass.”
Kuhn also played a big role in the offense. He scored the Packers’ second touchdown just before halftime on a 3-yard run and then caught a 9-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers on the Packers’ first possession of the second half.
On first and goal, Rodgers initially saw nothing open in the end zone, bought time with his feet and flicked the ball to Kuhn, who powered his way in.
That score gave the Packers a commanding 24-3 lead.
“It was nice,” Kuhn said. “We were in some advantageous plays with the defenses that they were running. Aaron made some nice checks and I was able to take advantage of it.”
Kuhn is the only player in the NFL who has scored at least one touchdown in the postseason in each of the last four years.
“Thanks to (coach) Mike McCarthy for calling my number when we get down there,” he said. “A lot of people could score these touchdowns. It’s just being in the right place at the right time and feeding off your teammates.”
The touchdowns on back-to-back possessions made up for a frustrating drive earlier in the game, when the Packers had a first and goal at the 2 and had to settle for Mason Crosby’s 20-yard field goal.
Kuhn gained 1 yard on first down and after tight end Jermichael Finley dropped what would have been a touchdown pass, Kuhn was stuffed in the hole for no gain.
“Credit to them,” he said. “We were a little upset with that. We wanted to come out, make some adjustments and finish drives.”
Harris, 5 feet 8 and 203 pounds, was quick to the hole, made decisive cuts and got some yards on his own. He had eight carries for 31 yards in the first half. On his 9-yard touchdown run he made a stop-on-a-dime cutback to the left after the hole was clogged on the right.
His run finished an 11-play, 82-yard drive in which he carried five times for 22 yards and caught two passes for 28 more.
Notably, Rodgers didn’t complete a pass to a wide receiver on the drive.
“That was a long drive,” Harris said. “We kept the ball moving, that’s the main thing. It feels good to be a part of that.”
The Packers signed Harris to the practice squad in late October and he didn’t see game action until Dec. 9.
“DuJuan was great,” Kuhn said. “He started us off fantastic. . . check-downs, moving the chains, running hard in the first half with the sub offense. I’m looking forward to seeing more of that as we go on (in the playoffs).”
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