Packers move step closer to division title, boot Vikings
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) The resurgent Green Bay Packers moved one win away from another NFC North title.
The Minnesota Vikings headed home to stew about missing the playoffs and wasting a 5-0 start to the season.
Looking again like a Super Bowl contender, the Packers won their fifth straight game on Saturday by riding another hot start to beat the Vikings 38-25.
Up next for the Packers (9-6) is a winner-take-all showdown for the division title against the Lions on New Year's Day.
''We're planning on going to Detroit to win the division,'' coach Mike McCarthy said. ''Merry Christmas.''
McCarthy has every right to be confident after the Packers defeated another opponent behind a big-play passing attack and opportunistic defense.
Aaron Rodgers threw for 347 yards and four scores, and the Packers cashed in on two Vikings turnovers with touchdown drives.
''Best thing we could hope for,'' Rodgers said about being in position to win the division after a midseason, four-game losing streak. ''We had some adversity, and we stuck together.''
The Vikings (7-8) are headed in the other direction, the loss extinguishing their faint playoff hopes.
Playing again without running back Adrian Peterson, Minnesota had success through the air on Saturday. Sam Bradford threw for 382 yards and three touchdowns, including a 71-yard TD pass to Adam Thielen in the second quarter.
Thielen set career highs with 202 yards and two scores.
But the Vikings made too many other mistakes to catch up to the Packers.
''One time a guy fell down, one time on the deep route to (Jordy) Nelson, (cornerback Xavier Rhodes) pulled off it too soon,'' coach Mike Zimmer said about the porous pass coverage. ''Trying to think of all them, but there was a lot.''
Other notes and takeaways from Saturday's game:
MVP TALK: Rodgers hasn't thrown an interception in the last six games, tying the franchise record. He hasn't thrown an interception in his last 206 attempts, six shy of the career high he set in 2014. He has had a passer rating of at least 108.9 in four of the five games in the win streak.
''I think he's an MVP. I don't think there's (any) question about it,'' McCarthy said when asked about Rodgers' candidacy for a third career Most Valuable Player award. ''He's been playing at an MVP level for a number of years. And that was an MVP performance.''
GETTING HEALTHIER: Green Bay built a 28-13 lead at halftime, with Rodgers accounting for all four scores. He finished 28 of 38 and shrugged off his right calf injury when he scrambled for a 6-yard touchdown late in the second quarter and made a rare Lambeau Leap. The calf is feeling better.
''Once I got moving, I felt like myself,'' Rodgers said.
Linebacker Clay Matthews was also productive, forcing a strip-sack that set up Rodgers' scoring run. Matthews said his sore left shoulder is feeling better, and he proved it by playing more snaps and spending more time disrupting the quarterback.
OUT OF TIME: The Vikings were once the talk of the league for their hot start with a Bradford-led offense helping to compensate for the injured Peterson, but Minnesota has lost eight of 10. ''To start 5-0 and not make the playoffs and not make the run like we would like to in November and December, it definitely hurts,'' cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said.
SHREDDED SECONDARY: Nelson had 154 yards and two touchdowns, with both scores coming in the first half. The Packers receiver found seams in Minnesota's defense, despite the return of safety Harrison Smith from an ankle injury. Zimmer after the game alluded to some apparent confusion in coverage in the first half. Rhodes switched to Nelson in the second half.
''Well, that's what he was supposed to do the whole game. So someone decided they weren't going to do that,'' Zimmer said.
THIELEN IT: Thielen went big play-for-big play with Nelson, finishing with 12 catches. The Packers secondary had shaky moments again a week after a porous fourth quarter in a win over the Chicago Bears.
For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL