GREEN BAY - The Green Bay Packers were reeling. Adrian Peterson had just broken another long run and the Minnesota Vikings were poised to turn a four-point lead into a two-score game early in the third quarter.
That’s when Packers’ safety Morgan Burnett made what may have been the biggest defensive play of the season for Green Bay.
On second-and-6 from the Packers 8-yard line, Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder rolled to the right and lofted a pass back across the field, to what he thought was a wide-open Michael Jenkins. But he didn’t see Burnett, who went up high to grab the interception. The Vikings wouldn’t get that close to the end zone the rest of the game, and the Packers used the turnover to spark them in a 23-14 win on Sunday at Lambeau Field.
“You can’t affect the game in a more positive way than picking them off in the end zone when they’re knocking on the door,” linebacker A.J. Hawk said. “That was huge. It took the momentum from them and we kind of ran with it after that.”
Added Packers coach Mike McCarthy: “I thought Morgan Burnett’s interception in the end zone was the biggest play of the game. I thought our whole sideline turned after that. Halftime was not the best halftime that I have been a part of. Our guys were a little bit up and down when we came in. We just stuck to the adjustments, and he gave us the boost.”
Burnett wasn’t done. With the Packers leading 20-14 late in the third quarter, the Vikings were threatening with a first-and-10 at the Green Bay 25-yard line when Burnett undercut tight end Kyle Rudolph for a diving interception.
“It was a good defensive call,” Burnett said. “I trusted my technique. That put me in a position to make the play and coach always tells me to just trust your instincts. On that play, I just let my instincts take over and that’s what happened. I undercut the ball and came away with the pick.”
It was the second time the Packers third-year safety has picked off two passes in a game, with the other coming last September against Chicago.
“It was two clutch picks,” cornerback Tramon Williams said. “We needed it; they were in scoring position and the guy made two great plays for us. But he’s been doing an excellent job all year long, and I don’t think he’s been getting much credit. Hopefully he can get a little more credit now.”
The diving interception even had former Packers safety Nick Collins impressed. Collins wrote on his Twitter page that it was a “36 type of play.”
“I’ve seen it since he got here,” Williams said of Burnett’s impact. “He definitely has playmaking ability. He has so much range, so he’s back as a safety but at the same time we’ve still got a lot of young players around here, so he has to run the defense and put guys where they’re supposed to be, so he definitely has a job on his hands and yet he’s producing at the same time. So he’s doing a lot for us.”
The interceptions were the first two of the season for Burnett and they allowed him to make up for several missed tackles on Petersen’s long runs earlier in the game.
“We just stayed together,” Burnett said of dealing with Peterson’s big day. “You can’t get down on yourself. Not to make any excuses, but Adrian Peterson is a great back. It’s like a boxing match. They’re going to throw their punches, we’re going to take some, but the only thing you can do is stand up and just throw punches back.”
Zach Heilprin covers the Packers for WBEV and WXRO radio in Beaver Dam, sister stations of ESPNWisconsin. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/zachheilprin.