MINNEAPOLIS – The Green Bay Packers’ final trip to Mall of America Field was an overwhelming winner.
What the Packers did offensively against the Vikings in their 44-31 on Sunday night can’t be overstated. It would have been one thing if the Packers had done this with Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, James Jones and Jermichael Finley catching passes from Aaron Rodgers. Instead, it was Rodgers throwing passes to Nelson, Jarrett Boykin and Myles White, and Eddie Lacy and James Starks thundering away in the running game.
When Starks rumbled through the Vikings for a 25-yard touchdown on the second play of the fourth quarter, the Packers led 38-17. At that point, Green Bay had a 396-153 edge in yards – including 167-71 on the ground. The Packers were a stunning 11-of-14 on third down, had a 2-to-1 edge in time of possession and hadn’t punted.
In fact, the Packers scored on every position until taking a knee to end the game.
Green Bay has won four in a row and is 5-2, a half-game ahead of Detroit (5-3) for first place in the NFC North.
It wasn’t just the offense. The Vikings’ 31 points didn’t tell the story of how well Green Bay’s defense played, even without injured outside linebackers Clay Matthews and Nick Perry. One touchdown came against the special teams and two others came in garbage time in the fourth quarter. Mike Daniels had two sacks, the secondary eliminated Greg Jennings (one catch for 9 yards) and Adrian Peterson – while productive – didn’t break into the open field.
Green Bay, which deferred after winning the opening toss, led 24-17 at halftime and extended the lead to 31-17 with its third ball-hogging drive of the game. The 15-play, 80-yard march took 8:10 off the clock, with Eddie Lacy punctuating it by blowing through a defender at the goal line for a 1-yard score. The Packers dominated on third down throughout. One of their few failures came on third-and-11. Rodgers hit Myles White for 8 to make it fourth-and-3 at the Vikings’ 34, and Rodgers hit Jordy Nelson for 8 to keep the drive alive. Rodgers also converted a third-and-2 with a 14-yard run and a third-and-2 with a 3-yard run to the 1.
The Packers broke a 10-10 tie with two huge plays in the second quarter. The first was Rodgers’ 76-yard touchdown pass to Nelson on third-and-6. Nelson lined up in the slot against linebacker Chad Greenway, caught the ball at about the 35 and took advantage of a bad angle by safety Andrew Sendejo to take it the distance.
The Vikings punted on the ensuing possession, with Micah Hyde going 93 yards for a touchdown. Hyde fielded the ball, waited a moment for his blocking to develop and took it up the middle, with M.D. Jennings delivering a big block.
The Vikings, however, pulled within 24-17 just before halftime. Jennings, silent in his first game against his former team, got 26 yards on pass interference against Tramon Williams to move the ball to the Packers’ 14. On third-and-8, Peterson took an inside handoff, ran through A.J. Hawk at about the 4 and flattened Morgan Burnett to get into the end zone.
The game couldn’t have started worse for the Packers, with rookie Cordarrelle Patterson equaling an NFL record by returning the opening kickoff 109 yards for a touchdown. Hyde got both of his hands on Patterson but Patterson used his speed to explode past Hyde and Chris Banjo, then ran away from Tim Masthay.
Green Bay responded with a 14-play, 90-yard touchdown drive. The Packers converted four third-down plays on the possession, including an 11-yard completion to Boykin on third-and-6 and a 12-yard scramble by Rodgers on another third-and-6. Finally, on third-and-2, Nelson lined up in the slot and got just an eyelash of separation against Josh Robinson. That was enough for Rodgers, who threw a perfect 11-yard touchdown pass.
Green Bay’s next drive last 17 plays and took 8:24 off the clock, giving it 31 plays and 15:48 of possession time on its two opening possessions. The Packers converted a fourth-and-1 but settled for a field goal and a 10-7 lead.
The Vikings answered with a tying field goal. The Packers gave the Vikings a first down when Datone Jones shoved a Vikings lineman after a third-and-6 incompletion. Just before the field goal, Williams had a potential interception – and potential touchdown – slip through his hands.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.