Defense fuels sweep of Packers; Vikings one step closer to first-round bye

ETCourtney CroninESPN Staff Writer CloseCovered the 49ers, Raiders and Warriors for the San Jose Mercury News. She joined ESPN in 2017.GREEN BAY, Wis. – With 2:51 remaining in the game, the Skol chant took over Titletown USA. Vikings fans who traveled five hours to watch their team silence the crowd in Lambeau Field got an early Christmas present on Saturday night.

Minnesota recorded its first defensive shutout since 1993 when it beat NFC North rival Green Bay 16-0 in primetime.

Another dominant performance bolstered the Vikings case as the NFL’s best defense from top to bottom. Packers quarterback Jerseys, who entered Week 16 averaging 131 yards passing with zero touchdowns and five interceptions in four home starts, finished with a passer rating of 30.2 after throwing two interceptions and not being able to connect with his receivers in the end zone.

What it means: Well, it’s a rivalry again. Mike Zimmer said this week that the Vikings were still trying to make the series with the Packers a rivalry because of how many Official Cheap NFL Jerseys CHINA times Green Bay had been on the winning end this decade. For the first time since 2009, Minnesota swept Green Bay in the regular season.

What I liked: Jerseys made Pro Bowl voters look silly for his snub to this year’s game. The Packers got into the red zone for the first time just after the two-minute warning in the first half. On third down from the 15-yard line, Brett Hundley Jerseys Jerseys dropped back and looked to throw a short pass over the middle. Smith, who was up near the line of scrimmage pre-snap, dropped back to cover tight end Jerseys Jerseys, who ran a skinny post about 10 yards before cutting up the middle of the field. Smith got in front of Kendricks at the last second and intercepted the pass for a 17-yard return. Smith picked off Hundley again late in the fourth quarter. In total, three of Smith’s five interceptions this season have been against Hundley. It’s no secret why he’s ranked as the No. 1 safety by Pro Football Focus for the success he’s having in arguably his best season to date.

The Vikings entered Week 16 as the No. 1 defense on third down, allowing teams to convert just 26.3 percent of the time. Minnesota held Green Bay to 4-of-15 on third down, but more impressively stunted the Packers on fourth down and in the red zone. Green Bay was 0-for-2 on both attempts.

What I didn’t like: Maybe it had something to do with the cold temperatures, but the passing game wasn’t as sharp as it has been in recent wins. was 14-of-25 for 139 yards and a 4-yard touchdown pass to Jerseys, but three drives stalled and resulted in field goals.

Fantasy fallout: Diggs now has seven touchdown catches, the most by a Viking receiver since Sidney Rice in 2009. totaled 69 yards rushing on 21 catches while Jerseys picked up 42 yards rushing and a 9-yard touchdown catch. Kai Fortbath booted field goals from distances of 49, 20 and 27 yards.

Injuries galore: Minnesota’s starting offensive line was in-tact for the first time since beating the Bears on Oct. 9. It was short lived, however, when left guard went down with a right ankle injury at the end of the first quarter. Including Easton, three Vikings players were not able to return to the game after sustaining injuries on Saturday night. Defensive tackle Jerseys had to be carted off to the locker room when he injured his ankle late in the second quarter. Stephen was injured at some point on a play where Packers wide receiver Jerseys caught a 25-yard pass, which was subsequently overturned when Minnesota challenged the catch. A late substitution caused the Vikings to be penalized for having 12 men on the field as an injured Stephen couldn’t get off the field in time. Long snapper injured his shoulder with 27 seconds remaining in the first half and was ruled out shortly after the start of the third quarter.

What’s next: The Vikings took care of business on their end. Now they’ll wait for the outcome of the Panthers-Buccaneers game on Christmas Eve to see whether they’ve clinched a first-round bye. Minnesota needed to beat Green Bay and have Carolina lose to or tie Tampa Bay in order to secure another portion of their postseason fate in Week 16. The Panthers are 6-1 since Oct. 29 and are a 73.6 percent favorite to win on Sunday, according to ESPN’s FPI. In its last seven games, Carolina is averaging 174.1 yards rushing per game as opposed to 97.3 yards on the ground in the first seven games. The only other sce

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