Instead it turned into a demolition.
The Packers shook off a sluggish – if not dysfunctional – beginning on offense against the Vikings and went on to throttle Minnesota, 31-3, to win their fourth straight game and remain tied for first place in the NFC North with the Chicago Bears at 7-3.
In what was probably quarterback Brett Favre’s final game against his former team, the Packers may have put the final nail in their division rival’s coffin, dropping the Vikings to 3-7 and all but mathematically out of playoff contention.
If this is indeed Favre’s last season, the final ledger will show him 2-2 against Green Bay. But as frustrating as it may have been to lose twice to the Vikings last season, this year’s sweep of the struggling neighbors is all that matters right now.
“We definitely want to beat them while they’re down,” defensive end Ryan Pickett said. “We don’t want to give them any life in the division. It felt good to deliver a blow like that. That was our intention.”
For a moment it looked like Favre might have the last laugh. How bad was the Packers’ start? Three possessions, one first down, two sacks, 14 total yards. Real bad, and the Metrodome crowd was all amped up as a result.
But the Packers took a collective deep breath and, in a testament to both their skill and poise, got their act together. A juggling 47-yard catch down the right sideline by Greg Jennings jump-started the offense on the way to four straight scores that turned an early 3-0 deficit into a 24-3 lead a few minutes into the second half, and the rest was academic.
“We just came to the sideline and said, ‘Hey we’re not doing a million things wrong, we’re doing one thing wrong. Let’s just make the correction and get it done,’” left guard Daryn Colledge said of the two early sacks. “Everybody said, ‘All right, let’s do that,’ and everybody calmed down.”
So did the crowd, as Jennings’ big play led to a field goal that tied the score and another deep ball to James Jones for 39 yards set up an 11-yard touchdown pass to Jennings for a 10-3 lead.
Then the defense, which had kept the deficit manageable by holding the Vikings to only a field goal on their first four drives, made the play that truly turned the game around.
With a first down at the Green Bay 25 and just under 2 minutes left in the half, Favre tried to hit Percy Harvin on a slant. Cornerback Tramon Williams jumped the route and intercepted the ball, and the momentum never left Green Bay’s side the rest of the day.
The turnover set up a 53-yard drive for another Packers TD that came on a 3-yard fade to Jones with just 5 seconds left in the half.
When the Packers then took the second-half kickoff and drove 73 yards for yet another score – a 46-yard catch-and-run by Jennings – it was 24-3 with 12 minutes left in the third and the offense had suddenly put up 260 yards in barely more than a full quarter of play.
“We all said, ‘Hey, we got our mistakes out of the way. Let’s move past it and get this thing going like we know we can,’ and we did,” right guard Josh Sitton said.
“For us to start slow like that and turn around and pick it up, especially that drive right before the second half, just shows the character of this team. Hopefully we can build off this momentum and keep it rolling.”
They weren’t done yet, either. Rodgers threw his fourth touchdown pass of the day, and third to Jennings, from 22 yards out early in the fourth quarter for the game’s final points. That gave Jennings seven catches for 152 yards and a career-best three scores.
It also gave Rodgers 301 yards on 22-of-31 passing, his first four-TD game in the regular season, and a 141.3 rating – the second-highest of his career behind a 155.4 mark last season at Cleveland. He also added 21 yards rushing on three scrambles, none bigger than the 15-yarder on the opening third down of the second half to keep Minnesota’s defense frustrated.
“When he gets in a zone like that, there is no quarterback better,” Jennings said. “He is so accurate, able to extend plays with his legs, then he can run when you give him the lane. He puts a lot of pressure on the defense when you have a quarterback back there who can do everything you don’t want him to be able to do. It’s exciting for us.”
So is the play of Green Bay’s defense, which was impressive for the third straight game. After the early field goal, the Packers shut the Vikings out over the final 51 minutes and made things miserable for Favre.
He finished just 17-of-38 for 208 yards with no touchdowns and an interception for a 51.2 rating, the fourth time this season his rating has been at that level or below and second against Green Bay (50.4 rating in Week 7).
It certainly was a far cry from his two dynamite performances against the Packers a year ago (135.3 and 128.6 ratings) when the Packers – as the players have reflected upon it now – put too much pressure on themselves to try to beat him.
“I think last year we read a little too much into it,” cornerback Charles Woodson said. “We got ourselves too excited about playing against Favre and that whole dynamic. This year we came into these matchups just knowing we needed to go out and play good football, and good things would happen. We played good football for four quarters, and got a big win.”
The defense also continued its strong run that has seen it allow just 10 points over the past three games and one touchdown in the last 13 quarters.
Green Bay’s big lead forced the Vikings to abandon the run after Adrian Peterson had gained 51 yards on 11 carries in the first half. He finished with 72 yards on 14 rushes. The Vikings also didn’t crack 300 total yards until a meaningless 12-yard completion to Gerhart on the game’s final snap.
“I just told the defense when they play like that, we’re not going to get beat,” Rodgers said. “When they give up three points against a high-powered offense like that, there’s no way with the kind of firepower we have on offense that we’re going to get beat.”
The win sets up what’s turning into a critical NFC showdown next week in Atlanta, where the Falcons have the best record in the NFC at 8-2, one game ahead of Green Bay, Chicago, New Orleans, Tampa Bay and the winner of Sunday night’s Giants-Eagles clash.
The Packers deserve credit for getting themselves back in the hunt as quickly as they did. At 3-3 following consecutive overtime defeats to Washington and Miami, and with so many other NFC teams starting to make their playoff push, the Packers had no time to waste, and didn’t.
“I don’t think anybody had their head down after the overtime losses,” Colledge said. “We knew we played close games and lost in the end because we made mistakes. It wasn’t because somebody was dominating us or we were getting blown out.
“We’ve overcome the injuries, we’ve overcome the overtime losses, and now we’re rolling, and that’s what we need to continue to do. We need to go down to Atlanta and continue this trend.”