Capitals

Vikings edge Packers to setup playoff rematch

201212301637598795993-p2.jpeg

Vikings edge Packers to setup playoff rematch

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Back and forth they went, Adrian Peterson and Aaron Rodgers going at each other with so much on the line. The emotional pendulum swung wildly in one of the most memorable games of this long and bitter rivalry.

It was a game so good that it deserves a rematch. And that's just what it will get.

Peterson rushed for 199 yards to become the seventh player to surpass 2,000 in a season and scored two touchdowns to help the Minnesota Vikings to a 37-34 victory over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday that sets up a playoff rematch next weekend.

``It won't take a whole lot to get our players fired up to go play in Lambeau,'' Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. ``They'll be fired up to go and play.''

Christian Ponder threw for 234 yards and three touchdowns in the best game of his young career and Blair Walsh kicked a 29-yard field goal as time expired for the Vikings (10-6), who won the last four games of the regular season to squeak in as the final NFC wild card. Peterson finished with 2,097 yards in his remarkable comeback season, just nine yards shy of breaking Eric Dickerson's single-season record set back in 1984.

``If it happened, it would have come to me, but I didn't want to focus on it at all,'' said Peterson, who had a career-high 34 carries in a game the Vikings needed to win to qualify for the playoffs. ``I wasn't focused on it. I went out and played my game and accomplished what we wanted to. We're in now. We're in the playoffs. We get to fight another week.''

That fight will take place at Lambeau Field on Saturday night because the Packers (11-5) once again couldn't find a way to stop Peterson. He needed 102 yards to join the 2,000-yard club and 208 to surpass Dickerson coming into the game. After rushing for 210 yards at Lambeau on Dec. 2, Peterson plowed through the Packers again on the one-year anniversary of surgery to repair two torn ligaments in his left knee.

``You can't help but watch him play and just be really impressed,'' said Rodgers, whose Packers missed a chance to lock down the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye. ``I think he probably might have won the MVP today, and hopefully we can win the playoff game next week.''

Rodgers completed 28 of 40 passes for 365 yards and four touchdowns, overcoming a slow start to bring the Packers roaring back into the game.

The Vikings jumped out to a 13-0 lead early in the second quarter, with Peterson scoring from seven yards out and Walsh kicking a 54-yard field goal and a 37-yarder to get the Metrodome crowd rocking. Peterson went over 2,000 yards with a 20-yard burst in the third quarter, getting serenaded with chants of ``MVP!'' along the way.

But Rodgers isn't ready to give up his crown just yet. He hit Greg Jennings and James Jones for touchdown passes in the third quarter and the shaky Mason Crosby's second field goal of the game tied it at 27 late in the third quarter to set up the wild finish.

Ponder squeezed a 3-yard TD just past Packers safety M.D. Jennings' diving reach to Michael Jenkins in the fourth before Rodgers hooked up with Jordy Nelson for a 2-yard score with 2:54 to play. Peterson took over from there, ripping off a 26-yard run to put Walsh in position for the game winner.

``He's a special player and we've had a special year so far,'' Vikings center John Sullivan said. ``But it's not over. We have a few more games to win.''

Not if the Packers can help it. They may have lost on Sunday. But they're still the NFC North champions. And this time they'll have the Vikings on their turf.

``I think it'll be a great contest,'' Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. ``It's an opponent we're very familiar with, and they're familiar with us. Everybody has confidence going into the playoffs. Most importantly, we'll be at home. We're excited to play these guys again.''

NOTES: Vikings CB Antoine Winfield did not play in the second half after aggravating the right hand he broke last week. He said he plans on playing in the playoff game, but will have to be evaluated throughout the week. ... Packers DE Jerel Worthy was carted off the field in the fourth quarter with a knee injury and WR Jarrett Boykin also left the game with an undisclosed injury. ... The game grew tense in the third quarter when McCarthy was penalized for throwing a challenge flag after the replay process began. However, they were only penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct, not prevented from benefiting from the overturned call. Referee Mike Carey said the review was called before the challenge flag was thrown, meaning they could still review the play. ``Emotional decision by me,'' McCarthy said. ``I shouldn't have done it.'' ... Jennings had eight catches for 120 yards and DuJuan Harris rushed for 70 yards on 14 carries for Green Bay.

Quick Links

How a team meeting can help stop Caps’ slide

usatsi_12030276.jpg
USA TODAY SPORTS

How a team meeting can help stop Caps’ slide

ARLINGTON — The Capitals met as a group, the doors shut to the outside world. Not even the coaches were invited after an embarrassing 8-5 loss in Chicago on Sunday. 

You could call it a “meeting” as several players did. “A chat” was the word used by defenseman Matt Niskanen. On Monday the coaches were back for more talk and more video. Owners of the NHL’s longest current losing streak at five games, everyone has the same goal: How to get back on track as fast as possible.

“At the end of the day we’re pretty close, we’re a team. This group isn’t guys yelling,” Capitals forward Tom Wilson said. “We’re close, we know how we need to play. We just needed to address it, we needed to talk it out a little bit, get on the same page. And then the same sort of thing with the coaching staff and the players. Go over some stuff, get on the same page, refocus, reshuffle the deck a little bit and get back at it.” 

Maybe they didn’t blister the paint off the walls in the locker room at United Center on Sunday, but these aren’t exactly genteel get-togethers, either. Video doesn’t lie and Washington hasn’t been near good enough during an 0-4-1 stretch that has it technically in third place in the Metropolitan Division and just one point ahead of fourth. That’s not a spot the defending Stanley Cup champs expect to be. 

Immediate comparison will be made to the infamous blistering former coach Barry Trotz gave his players after back-to-back blowout losses in games at Nashville and Colorado left them at 10-9-1 just 20 games into the 2017-18 season.

The Capitals returned home and responded by winning 10 of their next 13 games. But these things are rarely linear. Despite spending all of January in first place in the Metro last year, by March players and coaches were right back in the meeting room. That time it was to overhaul its defensive system after the team sleepwalked through a 9-9-4 stretch from Jan. 18 to March 8. 

“In that discussion last year, there was some major changes being made and that stuff is already in place,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said. “Now it's just about players doing their job, executing their responsibilities within that system and being better.”

Coaches can hold players accountable by reducing roles, changing lines or scratching them entirely. Reirden has done all of that, including putting center Evgeny Kuznetsov on the third line in Sunday’s loss. In dire circumstances, coaches can go nuclear as Trotz memorably did last season. That can get a team’s attention immediately - provided the tactic is not used too often. 

But it’s the players themselves who ultimately demand the most from each other when things go wrong. Washington has a veteran locker room. These players have won a Stanley Cup together. No one was willing to speak on the record about what was said in the players’ meeting or who did most of the talking. But it’s not hard to figure out, either.

Eight players (Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson, Brooks Orpik, T.J. Oshie, Lars Eller, Braden Holtby, Matt Niskanen) have nine years or more of NHL experience. Wilson, Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov have all played at least six years each for Washington. It’s an experienced roster that has been together, won together, lost together and knows its own strengths and weaknesses.    

“I think we’re a pretty loose group. That’s our nature. It works for us,” Niskanen said. “I don’t think we can get too uptight, but I think we’ll have a real determined, focused effort here the next couple nights. The guys recognize the situation that we’re in, accept it, take responsibility for it and work to try to change it.”

That rebound will have to come on back-to-back games with San Jose at home tonight (7 p.m., NBC Sports Washington) and on Tuesday at Toronto. Both of those teams have Stanley Cup hopes and both are struggling, too. 

The Sharks (28-16-7, 63 points) have lost three games in a row, but remain in second place in the Pacific Division. The Maple Leafs (29-17-2, 60 points) have lost two in a row and seven of 10. They are in second place in the Atlantic Division. 

These are all teams who could use the upcoming All-Star break and bye week to recharge. Washington will not practice again as a full group until 2 p.m. on Jan. 31. Holtby and Carlson will have a shorter rest period because they are going to San Jose on Thursday for NHL All-Star weekend, but even they will get a few days off to recharge. 

That escape from the mental anguish of a losing streak can help. But multiple Caps players said Monday that without at least one win it’s almost worthless. They’ll just be sitting on a beach thinking about what’s gone wrong and focusing on how to fix it. They need a win – and the lessons of last season can provide a blueprint.  

"The main thing is we've got to remember, be honest with ourselves for the last two years or so, that things haven't come easy,” Holtby said. “That's something that can be lost in the fact of winning. Because things weren't easy last year. We had to grind our way through to get where we were, and that's going to be what we have to do this year.”

MORE CAPS NEWS: 

Quick Links

The Ravens' future isn't Joe Flacco - but they don't want to face him in the AFC

The Ravens' future isn't Joe Flacco - but they don't want to face him in the AFC

The Baltimore Ravens made it clear after their Wild Card loss that Lamar Jackson would be their quarterback going forward, bringing the somewhat official end to Joe Flacco's 11-year career with the team.

So what's next for the Super Bowl MVP?

Retirement after a fruitful NFL career is an option, but in a league where teams are desperate for a seasoned veteran, Flacco could find himself with another affluent contract. The Ravens, too, could get something nice in return.

"Let's start with a second-round pick," former Redskins GM Charley Casserly said. "It's negotiable, we're going to keep him in pencil. Who am I not going to trade him to? Well, I may not have a choice. I may only have one trade pick. I don't want him in the AFC. I don't want this guy costing me a playoff position next year."

There are several AFC teams in need of a QB, too. The Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars would jump at the chance to get Flacco under center.

But it may not be that easy for the Ravens.

"If the team wants to renegotiate his contract, Flacco controls the trade," Casserly adds. "He can simply say, 'no' [and the] Ravens may have to just release him and let Joe go his own way." 

The former GM adds that he expects something to be settled come March. Why? Casserly places Teddy Bridgewater and Nick Foles as hotter free agency pickups for QB needy teams, and with the 2019 NFL Draft not offering a ton in terms of first-round quarterbacks, the Ravens may have to act fast in order to get a return on their investment. 

One team that is definitely in need of a QB1 is the Washington Redskins. The idea could interest Flacco as his family of seven could stay put in the DMV area. But can the Redskins afford Flacco? 

The team is facing a huge cap charge with Alex Smith, whose career is in question after suffering a catastrophic leg injury, and a rookie they can mold could make more sense than a 34-year-old Flacco.

MORE RAVENS NEWS: