Vikings Packers

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Case Keenum throws during the first half of the Vikings' 16-0 win over the Green Bay Packers on Saturday, Dec. 23, 2017, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. 

JEFFREY PHELPS, ASSOCIATED PRESS

GREEN BAY − So this is how the other half lives.

Nothing to play for. Injured starters, even those on the fence, placed on the inactive list. Playing little-used youngsters with an eye toward next season. Your stadium invaded by fans wearing the opponent's jerseys. Ugly execution from a quarterback-challenged offense. Little or no chance to win.

Packers fans have missed out on that kind of fun since the end of the 2008 season and, really, for most of the last 27 seasons, so this was uncharted territory for many. Not even a visit from the arch-rival Minnesota Vikings could change that as Packers fans got to experience it all Saturday night.

As soon as Green Bay was eliminated from playoff contention last weekend, snapping a streak of eight consecutive playoff appearances, coach Mike McCarthy turned his attention to next season. When he put quarterback Aaron Rodgers on the injured-reserve list because of "soreness" in the wake of his one-game return last Sunday, McCarthy basically rendered the final two games meaningless.

If people didn't understand his intentions at that point, they did when the Packers' inactive list was released prior to Saturday's game. Five starters — wide receiver Davante Adams, guard Jahri Evans, cornerback Damarious Randall and linebackers Clay Matthews and Nick Perry — were put on the shelf, meaning the Packers' only chance at winning was if the Vikings didn't show up even remotely interested in playing. And even that would have been iffy given the talent disparity that currently exists between the teams.

It didn't feel like August, not with a game-time temperature of 10 degrees, but this one had exhibition game written all over it. Problem was, the execution wasn't as good as your typical exhibition game.

Indeed, the Packers were helpless offensively in a 16-0, wake-me-when-it's-over loss to the Vikings. Amazingly for a team that is talking about having home-field advantage all the way through the playoffs, including the Super Bowl, Minnesota's execution wasn't much better.

The fact that the Packers were able to keep the game close was a testament to their determination not to pack it in this season. Or maybe it was because the Vikings' pedestrian offense will be the reason they break their fans' heart once again this season.

If not for a 39-yard pass interference penalty on backup Packers cornerback Josh Hawkins and a red-zone interception thrown by backup Packers cornerback Brett Hundley, the game might have gone down to the wire. The Packers ended with a meager 239 yards on offense, but that was 3 yards better than the Vikings' total.

It's hard not to make the game a referendum on general manager Ted Thompson and the roster he has assembled in Green Bay. But it wouldn't be totally fair. After the season-long siege of injuries continued in the first half, the Packers were playing without 10 of their preferred starters and a handful of valuable rotation players.

Still, if you must pin something on Thompson, look at what amounted to a 2018 audition for some of the younger players. Most of the backups who played Saturday did little to distinguish themselves, a sign that the Packers roster has a serious lack of depth. Of course, we already knew about the shortage of playmakers, especially on defense.

Nowhere was the lack of depth more evident than it was at quarterback. After starting seven games in Rodgers' absence, Hundley returned after sitting and watching Rodgers last week. Unfortunately, little changed for the third-year quarterback.

Reduced again to mostly short passes by McCarthy's conservative game plan, Hundley wasn't accurate enough to move the chains with any consistency. Some thought McCarthy would let Hundley run the full offense for the first time with nothing at stake, but that wasn't the case.

Hundley rarely threw the ball downfield, made a few plays with his feet and missed badly when he did take some deep shots in the fourth quarter. If the Packers were hoping Hundley would solidify his backup spot or make himself attractive for a potential trade, they left the stadium disappointed.

Indeed, this was only the second time the Vikings have shut out the Packers in their rivalry and the first time since 1971. The inefficiency in the passing game was the biggest culprit.

The Vikings' well-stocked and well-coached defense, arguably the NFL's best, had plenty to do with that. So did injuries that took wide receiver Jordy Nelson, tight end Richard Rodgers, right tackle Jason Spriggs and running back Aaron Jones during the game. Still, the Packers were their own worst enemy with errant throws and dropped passes.

"We had a lot of opportunities tonight," McCarthy said. "We didn't make the plays."

The Vikings didn't either, but that was small consolation for the Packers. Despite playing with replacements at outside linebacker and cornerback, Green Bay limited quarterback Case Keenum to 124 yards passing, a major accomplishment for a unit that has been torched repeatedly by highly ranked offenses.

In the end, though, the Packers defense couldn't overcome the Packers offense.

"I expected more," McCarthy said. "I thought we would play much better."

That's what the people in the other half always seem to say.

Contact Tom Oates at toates@madison.com.

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