The Green Bay Packers eased into the second round of the National Football League playoffs with a comfortable 24-10 win over a Minnesota Vikings team that was dealt a huge blow before the game even started.
Vikings starting quarterback Christian Ponder had a throwing session during warmups but was declared inactive with a bruised right elbow in a surprise announcement about 90 minutes before the NFC wild-card game began.
Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers completed 23-of-33 passes for 274 yards and one touchdown and the Packers stymied a Minnesota passing game that was forced to start quarterback Joe Webb, who had not attempted a pass in the regular season.
"Yesterday he improved enough to where you began to think ‘maybe' but today when we took him out it just wouldn't have been smart to play him. We made a decision to go with Joe," Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier told reporters.
The coach added that swelling on Ponder's elbow restricted his throwing motion.
"Some of the things we asked him to do, he wasn't good at getting them done. Things we needed him to do if we were to put him out there, so it just wasn't the right thing to do," he said.
Without Ponder, the Vikings were a shadow of the team that edged Green Bay 37-34 in last week's regular season finale. Ponder was hurt during that game but finished with a career-high passer rating and three touchdowns.
The Packers move on to the second round on January 12 when they visit the San Francisco 49ers.
Webb struggled to get the Vikings offense going despite a promising start which resulted in a field goal on Minnesota's first drive for an early 3-0 lead.
But a nine-yard touchdown run from DuJuan Harris, a 20-yard Mason Crosby field goal and two touchdowns from fullback John Kuhn, the second on a nine-yard pass from Rodgers, put the game out of reach.
Webb managed to take advantage of confusion in the Packers defense late in the fourth quarter, finding a wide open Michael Jenkins with a 50-yard touchdown pass that pulled the Vikings to within 14 points with under four minutes to play.
Minnesota's Adrian Peterson, who rushed for 199 yards last week, was held to 99 rushing yards on Saturday by an impressive Green Bay defense.
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said the Vikings had been smart to keep the chances of Ponder missing out "under wraps" but said his team had handled the challenge of facing a little known quarterback well.
"It didn't change our game plan a whole lot but I have to give a lot of credit to our defense and defensive coaches for the fact that they stayed the course and played really well against a quarterback who was un-scouted," he said.
"I thought we played good football for the first half, (although) we weren't able to knock them out of the park in the third and fourth quarter."
(Reporting by Simon Evans in Miami; Editing by Frank Pingue and John O'Brien)