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Green Bay Packers respond to challenge, resume winning ways

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MINNEAPOLIS -- Before the kickoff to Sunday's much anticipated matchup between the team that led the NFC North at the time -- Minnesota -- and the team that leads it today -- Green Bay -- a Packers official told me why Aaron Rodgers and Co. should emerge victorious.

Though he didn't put it in terms as clichéd as this, quite simply, their backs were against a wall.

The Packers are one of those stoic, unflinching organizations, from the top (general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy) down. There isn't a screaming hype man of an assistant coach or a management figure that's going to publicly or privately call anyone to the carpet for not playing well.

As the Packers official put it, they work through things in their own way.

After collecting their third straight "L" -- against Detroit -- last week, the Packers started hearing, from every angle, not only about what was wrong with them, but that the Vikings were better. That they were tougher. They had more trending strengths than Green Bay.

That was what the Packers needed.

Green Bay went to Minnesota, where its defense overwhelmed the Vikings. The Packers' maligned receivers made plays they hadn't been making over the past month. Eddie Lacy ran with purpose again. And Green Bay won, 30-13.

"Yes, we were challenged," said wide receiver James Jones, following his six-catch, 109-yard, one-touchdown performance against the Vikings -- a performance he completed while rocking an un-Belichickian hoodie.

The Packers weren't pushed so much by the Vikings as they were by circumstance. Green Bay was vulnerable because it had let itself slip. However, instead of going out of character, perhaps by doing something like taking play-calling duties back from assistant head coach Tom Clements, McCarthy got back to the basics.

He put his team in full pads last Wednesday at practice and got after it, old school. They worked on their inside run game: blocking schemes, technical points of where to hit mesh points and holes, things like that. One goal was to see if Lacy, demoted to the second team, would step up and regain what he'd lost.

This wasn't just for the offense. McCarthy wanted to get his defense set for Adrian Peterson. To make sure players understood the discipline they'd need to play with to prevent Peterson from breaking off any long runs. To dominate the Vikings' right side, their preferred sweet spot when it comes to running Peterson.

The receivers, who admittedly struggled during the three-game losing streak to get open and make plays, took it upon themselves to answer physicality with physicality and beat coverages. And, of course, to make catches to help out Aaron Rodgers, who is asked to do so much.

"It's not 'have to,' in a sense that we are desperate, but it is a sense that we have to play better," wide receiver Davante Adams said late last week. "We have a lot of talent in here."

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Lacy returned to form, running 22 times for 100 yards. Jones, Randall Cobb and Adams played well enough that Rodgers, who threw 61 passes last week against Detroit, threw just 34 times, completing 16 for 212 yards and two touchdowns.

Defensively, Green Bay's front ruled the Vikings' so-so line, stifling all running lanes for Peterson, who had just 45 rushing yards after rolling for 203 against Oakland in Week 10. The Packers also snapped a three-game sackless skid, sacking Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater six times.

Said McCarthy last week: "We are focused on offense to perform better as a whole, not one position, not one thing. This is not a one player, one position situation. We feel like we are a lot closer than people might think we are."

You could sense that Packers players and coaches were agitated -- even after defeating the Vikings, the edge was still there.

Linebacker Clay Matthews, who had six tackles and was a constant force against Minnesota, said that Green Bay has to now remain consistent and remember what it did to play so well on both sides of the ball. Players and coaches know this is the part of the season that matters most. Green Bay has dug itself out of holes before and been better for it.

As for the Vikings, they're Little Bro to the Packers for now. However, Green Bay's players expect Minnesota to stay step-for-step with them the rest of the season.

The regular-season finale between the Vikings and Packers at Lambeau could very well be for the division title. Maybe Minnesota will learn from this the way Green Bay did from its slump. Like the Packers, the Vikings take their cues from their leader, coach Mike Zimmer, and he's proven to be someone who can get guys to fix things and play better.

For the Packers, their refusal to come out of character, win or lose, is their identity. It's what this team knows works.

"These types of games can define who you are as a team," outside linebacker Julius Peppers told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel after defeating the Vikings. "Everyone has to step up to the challenge in these games, and I think we did as a team."

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89.

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