MINNEAPOLIS—They never needed to punt, despite having only one of their opening-day receivers in the lineup.
The Packers scored a 44-31 win over the Vikings on Sunday night. It kept the Packers in first place in the NFC North but it’s what the win says about this team that resonates loudest: The Packers are building toward a late-season run.
“I’m very impressed with our football team tonight. I can’t give Aaron Rodgers and our players enough credit,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said.
Impressive? Let’s start with 40 minutes and 54 seconds time of possession. That’s a stat built on a rushing attack that gets stronger by the week. The Packers outrushed the Vikings and Adrian Peterson 182-111. A year ago, it was unthinkable.
“We’re 5-2 and we’re getting better,” McCarthy said. “We’ll have a chance to grow from this.”
The Packers’ growth has now reached four consecutive wins. They can make it five in a row with a win at Lambeau Field over the Chicago Bears next week.
Sunday night’s win over the Vikings was necessary for the Packers to retain first place in the North, after the Lions rallied to beat the Cowboys earlier in the day. Then, on the opening kickoff in the Metrodome, Vikings rookie Cordarrelle Patterson turned the pressure up a notch with a 109-yard return for a touchdown.
“That’s a tough way to start. On the road, that’s not how you want to start. We answered back. That possession after that is probably the most important one,” Rodgers said of a 14-play, 90-yard touchdown drive that killed the Vikings momentum and tied the game at 7-7.
Rodgers and the offense turned in another superb performance. They scored on every possession except their final one, which was a one minute and 24-second victory formation.
“I wasn’t going to let this team beat us. I put a lot on my shoulders,” Rodgers said.
With James Jones, Randall Cobb and Jermichael Finley sidelined by injury, Jordy Nelson was the only receiver in the lineup that was in the starting lineup on opening day. Rodgers completed passes to Andrew Quarless, Jarrett Boykin and Myles White, but it was Nelson who softened the loss of Jones, Cobb and Finley.
“I like Jordy everywhere,” said McCarthy, who creatively used Nelson as a slot receiver. “He can play any position.”
Rodgers connected on touchdown passes of 11 and 76 yards to Nelson, and Eddie Lacy and James Starks pounded out 94 and 57 yards rushing respectively, in an offense that mixed run and pass to the tune of 42 runs and 29 passes. It was further proof that this is a very different Packers team from those of recent years.
“This offense would not work without him,” McCarthy said of Rodgers, whose precision passing helped convert 13 of 18 third-down attempts.
The stats paint an even more dominant picture of the Packers’ performance than the final score would indicate. The Packers gained 464 yards to the Vikings’ 243, and rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari pitched a shutout at Vikings star defensive end Jared Allen, who doesn’t even appear in the final defensive statistics; not so much as a tackle.
“David did a heckuva job. David is getting better and better every week. I can’t say enough about the consistency the young man is playing with,” Rodgers said of Bakhtiari.
McCarthy can’t say enough about Rodgers.
“I think this is shaping up to be one of Aaron’s best years. There are a lot of things that don’t show up on the stat sheet,” McCarthy said.
What does appear on the stat sheet is a quarterback that threw for 285 yards, no interceptions and a 130.6 passer rating, unselfishly mixed run with pass, and continued to make “stars” out of little-known receivers. This week, it was Myles White, who caught five passes for 89 yards.
It all contributed to a memorable night.
“I kept my field pass,” McCarthy said of the souvenir he’ll take from the final Packers-Vikings game to have been played at the Metrodome.
“Greg (Jennings) and I talked. We have a lot of good memories together,” Rodgers said of the summer soap opera that concluded with Jennings making just one catch for nine meaningless yards.
The Packers, it would seem, are headed for much more meaningful memories.
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