By NANCY ARMOUR, Associated Press
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — The Green Bay Packers are back atop the NFC North, and they have a very unlikely source to thank.
Minutes after the Packers wrapped up their 23-14 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday afternoon, Seattle beat Chicago in overtime to drop the Bears back into a tie with Green Bay for the division lead.
Yes, that would be the same Seattle team that stole a win from the Packers (8-4) earlier this season with the Inaccurate Reception.
"I can't say there are many Seattle fans in the locker room," Aaron Rodgers said, "but we appreciate the help."
The Packers and Bears each play three of their last four against NFC North opponents, including a Dec. 16 matchup at Soldier Field that might well decide the division title.
"Everything's right in front of us," Rodgers said. "We've got to go win our home games and get a couple wins on the road."
The Vikings (6-6), meanwhile, have ground to make up after falling a game behind Seattle in the race for the second NFC wild card. Not even a monster day by Adrian Peterson was enough to lift the Vikings, who lost for the fourth time in five games.
Peterson had a career-long 82-yard touchdown run and finished with 210 yards rushing, his most since tearing his ACL almost a year ago. But Morgan Burnett picked off Christian Ponder twice in the red zone in the second half, and Minnesota went scoreless after taking a 14-10 lead into halftime.
"He ran for 210 yards — that's important — but it's not as important to him as the fact that we didn't win the game. That's the beauty of Adrian Peterson. He's a total team guy," Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier said. "It's just disappointing that we couldn't win when he had such a great day in this environment.
"You want to see him celebrate, but it's hard to celebrate after today's loss."
Ponder's job appears secure despite the loss. Frazier said he didn't consider making a switch during the game and he doesn't plan to this week, either.
"We can win with the personnel that we have," Frazier said. "We've shown that we can. We just have to do a few things better. There's no reason to panic."
With Green Bay's offense trying to find its rhythm after injuries to No. 2 receiver Jordy Nelson (hamstring) and offensive lineman T.J. Lang (ankle), Peterson's 82-yard run gave the Vikings a 14-10 lead at halftime. He put the Vikings in great position to pad that lead, ripping off a 48-yarder on the first play of the second half that gave Minnesota the ball at the Green Bay 12.
But two plays later, Ponder got flushed out of the pocket. Rather than take the sack or run out of bounds, he heaved the ball into the end zone —right into Burnett's hands.
"I'd seen it was a pretty spiral, and I made sure I got my paws on it," Burnett said.
Rodgers overthrew Jarrett Boykin in the end zone on third-and-7 from the 29, and the Packers looked as if they were going to go for it. But after a Minnesota timeout, McCarthy sent out Mason Crosby, who had missed six of his last 11, including one from 53 yards just before the half.
This one was good, however, the kick wobbling through the uprights.
Rodgers was picked off on a trick play, but the Packers defense bailed him out, stuffing Peterson for no gain on third-and-1. A tipped Chris Kluwe punt gave the Packers the ball at their own 49 and, four plays later, James Starks bolted 22 yards for the score and the 20-14 lead, Green Bay's first since the second quarter.
Another long run by Peterson and a 15-yard penalty on the Packers put the Vikings deep in Green Bay territory. Once again, though, Burnett was there, stepping in front of Kyle Rudolph and snatching the ball at the 13.
"This one definitely hurts," Ponder said. "For what this game means to the team, to this state, it's disappointing — especially with the way Adrian played — to go out and throw two interceptions."
The Packers ground out an 11-minute drive before Crosby sealed the win with his third field goal of the day, a 31-yarder. Rodgers made three big third-down conversions to keep the drive alive, running for one and finding Greg Jennings (8 yards), back in the lineup for the first time since Sept. 30, and Randall Cobb (33 yards) on the others.
"It definitely was a gut check for us at halftime," Rodgers said "The thing you can say about our guys, there was no panic. ... When we had to have it there in the fourth quarter, we were able to put something together. That said a lot about the kind of guys we've got and the leadership we have."
NOTES: Green Bay has won a franchise-high 10 straight against NFC North opponents. ... Burnett's two interceptions matched his single-game career high. He also had two last year against the Bears. ... With 1½ sacks Sunday, Jared Allen now has 14 of Rodgers. ... Peterson's 21 carries gives him 1,640 for his career, topping the previous Vikings record of 1,627.
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