“Zero sacks says it all,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said.
It certainly does. After getting dumped 14 times in two games against the Vikings last year, quarterback Aaron Rodgers was not sacked in 37 dropbacks (34 passes, three scrambles) on Sunday.
Minnesota’s formidable front four, which has had trouble generating sacks this season, never got on track against the Packers. Rodgers and McCarthy both gave particular credit to left tackle Chad Clifton and right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who were matched up against defensive ends Jared Allen and Ray Edwards, respectively.
Allen, who had 7½ sacks of Rodgers last year when Clifton missed both Minnesota games with an ankle injury, was credited with just one tackle, while Edwards had only two. Both were credited with only one quarterback hit apiece, according to the press box statistics.
Clifton, who had allowed just 1½ sacks in three previous games against Allen (two vs. Minnesota in 2008, one vs. Kansas City in 2007), was asked where this performance ranked for him against one of the league’s premier pass rushers.
“I don’t know,” Clifton said. “You’d have to go back and look at all the games. Every time we play each other it’s always a battle. I think we get each other’s best effort, and today was no different.”
Rodgers finished with 295 yards passing with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He also added 14 yards rushing on his three scrambles.
“If we can keep Aaron upright, you see what he can do,” said Bulaga, who made his third straight start at right tackle in place of an injured Mark Tauscher. “He can throw the ball around the yard a little bit and make some plays. He can use his feet well, get out of the pocket and do good things. If you keep him upright, he’s a great player. Everyone knows that.”
Rodgers wasn’t happy with the two picks he threw in the first half but felt otherwise he played a solid game. With 268 yards of offense in the first half, the Packers were moving the ball consistently and effectively, something that was difficult to do against the Vikings last season when Rodgers was taking so many sacks.
“I have to give Bryan and Chad special kudos for the way they corralled those guys,” Rodgers said.
“But I think Mike deserves a lot of credit as well. I think we kept them off-balance with our attack, mixing the screens with the straight drop-backs. We had a real good flow there for a little bit. Unfortunately like I said I made a couple poor decisions. But at times they weren’t even rushing. They were more content standing at the line of scrimmage and jumping. When you can slow down two great rushers like that, that’s a win for us and those guys did a great job.”
The streak ends
Receiver Donald Driver missed two days of practice this past week with a quadriceps injury, and as a result his snaps were limited on Sunday night so as not to make the injury worse. Unfortunately, the reduced playing time led to Driver’s streak of 133 consecutive games with at least one reception (139 including playoffs) coming to an end.
The streak stands as a franchise record.
Driver was the intended target of just one pass midway through the fourth quarter. It was a short throw, but Driver lost his footing on his route and didn’t have a chance to catch it.
“I feel bad for him,” Rodgers said. “He’s a great team player. He’s been an incredible Packer. That’s probably the one thing that I’m real disappointed about besides my poor decisions a couple times is just not being able to get him his catch, because I know what it means for him and what that means for our offense as well.”
The last time Driver did not catch a pass in a regular-season game was on Dec. 30, 2001, ironically in a victory over Minnesota at Lambeau Field. His 133-game regular-season streak started in the final game that season, at the Meadowlands against the New York Giants.
For the record, Driver’s 139-game streak including playoffs actually began later than that, with the 2002 season opener against Atlanta at Lambeau Field. In the 2001 NFC Divisional playoffs at St. Louis, Driver was held without a catch. So the two streaks actually started with different games.
The most notable replay review of Sunday night’s game was the reversal of Percy Harvin’s 35-yard TD catch in the back of the end zone in the final minute of the game. It was determined Harvin’s second foot came down out of bounds.
But another significant reversal came late in the first half. Minnesota tight end Visanthe Shiancoe was originally ruled to have made a diving catch of Brett Favre’s pass in the end zone for a 17-yard TD that would have given the Vikings a 21-14 lead.
But McCarthy challenged the call, and upon review it was ruled that Shiancoe had trapped the ball, as the ball scraped the ground while he was securing the catch. Two plays later, the Packers got a stop on third down and the Vikings had to settle for a field goal for a 17-14 lead.
The successful challenge cost the Vikings four points.
“It is hard when they take touchdowns off the board,” said Minnesota coach Brad Childress, who objected to the call more strongly in his post-game radio interview.
Shiancoe wasn’t pleased with the call either.
“I personally believe I had possession,” he said. “I talked to the referee and he told me that if it was further up in my hands it would have been a touchdown. I thought I had my hands under it, but they said it wasn’t a completion. That’s the difference between three points and seven points.”
Odds & ends
--Both tight end Andrew Quarless’ 9-yard TD reception in the second quarter and linebacker Desmond Bishop’s 32-yard interception return for a score in the third quarter were the first NFL touchdowns for both players. It was also Bishop’s first career interception.
--Rodgers posted 166 yards passing in the first quarter, his career high for the opening period. The Packers’ 268 yards in the first half were their most in a half this season.
--Linebacker A.J. Hawk’s interception was his second of the season, matching his career high set two other times – as a rookie in 2006 and last season.
--Receiver James Jones posted his fourth career 100-yard game and his first since Week 9 of last season at Tampa Bay.
Defensive end Cullen Jenkins strained a calf muscle during warm-ups about an hour before the game and did not play. Fellow defensive end Ryan Pickett re-injured the ankle that kept him out of last week’s game and was sidelined early in the contest.
With them out, rookie C.J. Wilson and second-year pro Jarius Wynn played a significantly higher number of snaps than usual and made some plays. Wilson was credited with eight tackles (five solo) and had the pressure and hit on Favre on the play when Bishop got his pick-six. Wynn was credited with two tackles, including the lone sack of Favre, the only time the Packers have sacked Favre in three games against him.
“They played outstanding,” nose tackle B.J. Raji said of Wilson and Wynn. “For their number to be called on like that, for them to respond way they did, speaks volumes to their character and commitment to this team.”
Safety Nick Collins banged the knee that has been giving him some trouble for the last few weeks on his fourth-quarter interception, but he was able to return to the game for the final possession.