Like Dikembe Mutombo waving his finger at anyone so unwise to challenge him in the paint, several NFL teams sent reminders Sunday that they’re still viable in the playoff race.
Green Bay, Seattle and Indianapolis delivered the messages loud and clear.
The most emphatic statement was made by the Packers, on the road against a quality opponent and archrival that had overtaken the Pack in the NFC North. Green Bay physically slammed around the Vikings; it was the Packers’ best performance in more than six weeks.
Green Bay (7-3) had lost its previous three and Minnesota (7-3) had won five in a row.
“We have a lot of veterans around here, so we knew how to approach a game like this,” defensive tackle B.J. Raji said. “We have been so used to being the hunted in the division, and now that we were the hunters it feels good to have come out on top in this one.”
The Packers held Adrian Peterson to 45 yards on the ground and the Vikings to 94 yards rushing in all. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater gained 43 of those on frantic scrambles. He also was sacked six times and harassed a whole bunch more.
With the ball, Eddie Lacy re-emerged with 100 yards rushing, Aaron Rodgers was efficient enough despite several dropped passes, and there were no turnovers. Mason Crosby made all five field goal tries.
Point well made by the Packers: We’re still in charge here.
“We’ve been taking it in the chin the last couple weeks, rightfully so the last few weeks,” Rodgers said. “We had a couple real poor performances. This was an important week for us, we stuck together.
“We had some good conversations about what it’s going to take to get this ‘W,’ and be standing here and have this feeling right now which is a great feeling to be back in first and kind of control our own fate from here.”
The Colts are in the same position in the AFC South: tied with Houston at 5-5, and in control because they have a victory over the Texans and are 3-0 in the division.
Indianapolis’ past two wins were its most impressive of what has been a disappointing 2015. The Colts beat Denver in likely Peyton Manning’s last regular-season visit, went on a bye, then rallied in a big way to take down the Falcons in Atlanta.
The latter win came with Matt Hasselbeck, probably the NFL’s best backup quarterback, moving to 3-0 this season when standing in for an injured Andrew Luck.
“I think we just keep scratching and clawing and doing what we can,” said Hasselbeck, who never envisioned playing such a key role at age 40 on a team that has progressed one step deeper in the playoffs the past three years with Luck.
“These are not perfect circumstances, you would love to have your starting quarterback playing. You would love to have a lot of different things.”
What the Colts have is a solid system built by coach Chuck Pagano, and enough depth to overcome some key injuries. They’ll need to be as healthy as possible for the stretch run, but they reminded everyone in their past two games that they’re still around.
Indeed, they get Houston at home and only Pittsburgh on the remaining schedule has a winning record.
Seattle (5-5) is the most dangerous .500 team in the league. Considering that Tampa Bay is the only other 5-5 club in the NFC and Atlanta is fading quickly, the two-time defending conference champion Seahawks certainly bear watching.
It’s highly possible that Sunday’s demolition of San Francisco is the beginning of Seattle’s revival for a second straight season. With Marshawn Lynch ailing, the Seahawks have found a clone in rookie Thomas Rawls. Russell Wilson comes off his best passing game of the season and is using all of his targets. The offensive line has been a problem that still must be solved.
And the defense needs to step up the way it is capable of doing in a closing stretch that features tough opponents in Pittsburgh, Minnesota and NFC West leader Arizona.
But there’s a feeling that these are still the resourceful and ultra-aggressive Seahawks, despite their recent issues.
“We need to find the consistency that gives you a chance to make some noise later on,” coach Pete Carroll said. “We’re OK about starting right now.”
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