For a team synonymous with the name Aaron Rodgers, after two weeks it is the Packers defence that has driven them to two vital division wins as Mike Pettine’s unit stepped up big in the fourth quarter to stymie a Vikings comeback.
After watching the first quarter though, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Packers were going to win a blowout behind a vintage Rodgers performance, as the Hall of Fame bound quarterback drove his team down the field in just over two minutes. On the first play of the game, Rodgers hit star wideout Davante Adams for 39 yards and that was followed by a 15-yard dash from Aaron Jones, as the Packers looked to establish the run early. A screen pass from Rodgers to Jamal Williams capped a four play, 75-yard drive for a touchdown.
The Vikings tried to respond, with Dalvin Cook looking sharp early on. He gained two first downs, but the drive came to an end as the impressive Jaire Alexander thwarted a Kirk Cousins pass headed for Stefan Diggs and a first down. Dan Bailey then missed a field goal to rapturous applause from the Lambeau faithful. With the ball back in the hands of Rodgers, the Packers offence was purring as he threw completions to Marquez Valdes Scantling, Davante Adams and Geronimo Allison – the latter being his second TD pass of the game to make it 14-0 to Green Bay.
As Rodgers looked incredibly sharp to start the game, his opposite number looked anything but. On the next Vikings drive, Cousins fumbled but was fortunate as rookie Irv Smith Jr.pounced on the ball.
However, on the subsequent play, Packers defensive lineman Kenny Clark sacked Cousins and forced another fumble, this time recovered by Dean Lowry. This put the ball back into the hands of the red-hot Rodgers who hit Adams and Jones for successive first downs, before Jones ran into the end zone from the 2 to give the Packers a 21-0 lead.
Just as things looked like things were getting away from the Vikings, Cook produced an electric 75-yard run for a touchdown, making it 21-7.
Almost straight after that, Geronimo Allison fumbled and the Vikings pounced. Momentum was with the Vikes, but Cousins couldn’t get them down the field as the Packers D turned the screw. Cousins looked increasingly uncomfortable in the pocket, going 0-6 at one point as he failed to capitalise on the turnover. This eventually culminated in Preston Smith intercepting a Cousins pass, after Za’Darius Smith had harried him into throwing into traffic.
Fortunately, though for Cousins, the Vikings defence was growing stronger as the half progressed. Despite the Packers improved efficiency in running the ball, a baffling call on 4th and 1 saw Jones stuffed at the line to create a turnover on downs. Rodgers was clearly frustrated, asking his coach “what do you want me to do?”
Cousins showed tremendous composure to find Chad Beebe in the face of pressure, resulting in a 61-yard gain. Cousins found Diggs for a touchdown but, as would be the case regularly in this game, penalties killed the Vikings. Cook was called for offensive pass interference negating the touchdown, a call that looked soft as he blocked down the field. Cousins couldn’t get the ball in the end zone and had to settle for a field goal. The Vikings drove again at the end of the half but yet another offensive pass interference call, this time on Diggs, held them back.
The second half started as the first half ended for the Packers, the offence looking lost and a complete departure from the unit that sliced apart the Vikings in the first quarter. Rodgers found himself under constant pressure and a bad snap forced a turnover for the Vikings, resulting in a 45-yard pass from Cousins to Diggs, whose celebration saw him called for unsportsmanlike conduct. That meant a mammoth 48-yard extra point attempt for Bailey, who saw his effort blocked as the Packers dug deep to keep momentum on their side.
The Packers offence continued to look lost as the second half went on, but the second half will be remembered more for the tense atmosphere than anything else. Neither team played well on offence and you’d have to think that the Vikings would have won had they not continually got in their own way.
Dalvin Cook was outstanding in gaining 165 yards from 22 runs, but 11 penalties will have left Mike Zimmer seething. Credit must be given to the Packers defence that again looked impressive – up front they regularly caused Cousins to panic and the secondary, led by Jaire Alexander, came up with big plays on multiple occasions – none more so than Kevin Kings interception of Cousins in the end zone late in the game. Questions clearly remain and the doubts get louder over Cousins’ ability to lead a team deep into the playoffs. It is fair to say that he is not playing up to the standards expected of a man with a fully guaranteed, $84 million contract.
Issues remain also for the Green Bay offence, which has played well for only one of the 8 quarters it has played so far this season. Matt LaFleur has repeatedly stated that the offence requires time and patience, so will however be delighted to be off to a 2-0 start with plenty of improvements still to be made. Combine that with a defence playing to this level, there’s optimism that this Green Bay team can go far in 2019.