Vikings backup QB outshines Packers’ No. 2

The Sports Xchange

December 24, 2017 at 12:34 am.

Dec 23, 2017; Green Bay, WI, USA;  Minnesota Vikings quarterback Case Keenum (7) gets a pass away from Green Bay Packers linebacker Reggie Gilbert (93) in the first quarter at Lambeau Field. Photo Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Dec 23, 2017; Green Bay, WI, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Case Keenum (7) gets a pass away from Green Bay Packers linebacker Reggie Gilbert (93) in the first quarter at Lambeau Field. Photo Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

GREEN BAY, Wis. — The Green Bay Packers have sunk with their backup quarterback.

The Minnesota Vikings are swimming with theirs.

The Vikings put an exclamation mark on their NFC North championship by overwhelming their rivals to the east 16-0 on Saturday night at frozen Lambeau Field.

By the end of the game, most of the remaining fans were clad in purple. The backup quarterback, Case Keenum, led a “Skol” chant to the fans congregated by the Vikings’ tunnel.

With starter Sam Bradford on injured reserve, Keenum improved to 10-3 as the Vikings’ starter.

Hundley fell to 3-5 in place of two-time MVP Aaron Rodgers, who went back on injured reserve this week because of his broken collarbone.

With a kickoff temperature of 10, neither quarterback was particularly effective. But Keenum doesn’t have to be great because a terrific defense has his back.

Harrison Smith and Co. had their way against Hundley and the depleted Packers’ offense. The Vikings limited Green Bay to 239 yards. Smith had two interceptions. The first came in the red zone late in the first half to help preserve a 10-0 lead and the second clinched the shutout.

“I can’t talk enough about the defense and talk those guys up enough,” Keenum said. “They are really, really good and they’re playing really, really well. It’s very comforting to be a quarterback of a team that’s doing what they’re doing. It’s a lot of hard work. It’s a lot of different things coming together. It’s been awesome to watch.”

Minnesota’s defense ranks in the top five in most of the key categories. That includes first on third down and fourth in the red zone. The Vikings dominated in those areas on Saturday night, holding the Packers to a combined 4 of 21 on third and fourth downs and 0 for 2 in the red zone.

“It’s cool to get a shutout,” Smith said. “We had a big fan base. We had the ‘Skol’ train going. This defense has been playing hard all year. We enjoy playing, so it was nice to get that.”

It was the Vikings’ first shutout victory since 1993 and their first shutout of the Packers since winning 3-0 in 1971.

“I think it’s important for the guys but, really, the most important thing is that we got the win,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “Our defensive players work very hard. Our defensive coaches do a good job. And, we have good players and they play well together.”

Other than Hundley scrambles of 24 and 22 yards, the Vikings dominated the third-year quarterback. Playing without receivers Davante Adams for the entire game and Jordy Nelson for the second half, Hundley was 17-of-40 passing for 130 yards and the two interceptions to Smith.

Even a decent day by Hundley might have given the Packers a chance for a big upset. Green Bay’s defense, which entered the game ranked No. 21 in points allowed, No. 30 on third down and No. 31 in the red zone, turned in one of its best performances of the season despite being without its two best pass rushers (Clay Matthews and Nick Perry) and best cover man (Damarious Randall).

Keenum threw for only 139 yards. Pro Bowl receiver Adam Thielen managed only two catches for 26 yards and standout tight end Kyle Rudolph caught only one pass for 6 yards.

“We came out there and we fought,” said defensive tackle Kenny Clark, who had two sacks. “A couple times we got them in short field and held them to field goals. They got two big penalties on us. They got 10 points off that. For the most part, we fought. We’re happy for our defense and the energy and effort and the heart we played with.”

The energy and effort didn’t add up to victory. That for the 12th time this season belonged to the Vikings, whose powerhouse defense and efficient backup quarterback have them positioned to make a run for the Super Bowl. That’s the big-picture view for Zimmer.

“It was important that we came out here and won tonight because we need to win this game, and then you need to win the next game and then we get the chance to sit at home for a week and kind of get re-focused and regrouped,” Zimmer said. “And after the last bye we had, we had quite a bit of success. So, I’m hoping that we can get one more win and work on some things that we need to work on like we worked on during bye week and then go and play our rear ends off in the playoffs.”