GREEN BAY, Wis. — Aaron Rodgers was sensational, as usual.
But for the first time this season, he got a major helping hand from his teammates on defense and special teams.
Rookie Randall Cobb returned a first-quarter punt 80 yards for a touchdown and the league’s 30th-ranked defense played its best game of the season as the Green Bay Packers improved to 9-0 by beating the Minnesota Vikings45-7 at Lambeau Field on Monday night.
With the Packers in command, MVP frontrunner Rodgers got to watch the final 10:30 from the sideline. He completed 23-of-30 passes for 250 yards and four touchdowns – good for a passer rating of 140.3, extending his NFL record with a ninth consecutive game with a passer rating of at least 110 – before being relieved by Matt Flynn.
What has to be the most promising part of the night from Green Bay’s perspective, however, was the performance of the defense. When these teams met three weeks ago, Adrian Peterson rushed for 175 yards and first-round pickChristian Ponder, while completing less than 50 percent of his passes, gave the Vikings a chance to win with a fourth-quarter rally from a 33-17 deficit. On Monday, Peterson had 51 yards and the Vikings finished with just 266.
“Defensively, we really don’t follow or are as aware of the statistics as you are, but we felt that our big plays were definitely up but there were some key situations that we needed to improve on and the first one was third downs,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “I thought we tackled well tonight. I thought they flew around. We got our hands on the ball. We hit the quarterback. We had negative runs. We have playmakers on our defense, but as a group, I thought they played with great intensity and kept them to seven points on the board.”
The defense was key, because the NFL’s top-scoring offense looked decidedly mediocre for much of the first half. Green Bay led 17-0 at halftime, and when the offense got on track in the third quarter, the Vikings’ fate was sealed.
“Just disgusted,” Vikings defensive end Jared Allen said. “I mean 45-7, are you kidding me? I haven’t lost this bad since I don’t know when. I don’t know. We’ve got some issues we’ve got to get cleaned up. We’ve got to play better. They throttled us out there today.”
McCarthy’s decision to defer after winning the opening coin toss paid immediate dividends. After the defense forced a three-and-out punt, three rookies contributed in the Packers taking a 7-0 lead as tight ends Ryan Taylor and D.J. Williams made key blocks to spring Cobb.
The Packers made it 14-0 as an offense averaging 34.4 points per game converted three third downs during a 70-yard scoring drive. After Rodgers’ 3-yard sneak moved the chains on third-and-1, his play-action fake froze the linebacker and safety just long enough to throw a 25-yard laser to Greg Jennings, who beat Jamarca Sanford for the touchdown.
After the defense forced another three-and-out, Rodgers converted a fourth-and-5 with a 25-yard pass to Jermichael Finley. A sack by Allen, however, limited the damage to a field goal and made the score 17-0.
That play was emblematic of the first half, with the Vikings keeping it a game by putting constant pressure on Rodgers. In 19 dropbacks, he was sacked three times, scrambled three other times and forced to check it down on a couple other occasions. Moreover, running backs James Starks and Ryan Grant were limited to 9 yards on six attempts.
The second half was a different story.
McCarthy’s decision to defer paid off again when the Packers marched 69 yards for a touchdown to start the third quarter. Rodgers converted a fourth-and-2 with a 12-yard pass to Jordy Nelson, then hit Nelson for a 17-yard touchdown. On the scoring play, Rodgers threw quickly to Nelson, who stiff-armed struggling Vikings cornerback Cedric Griffin at the 12, broke free at the 5 and lunged into the end zone, making it 24-0.
Cobb’s muffed punt set up a 14-yard touchdown drive for the Vikings, with Peterson waltzing in from the 3 as center John Sullivan blew defensive end Ryan Pickett off the ball.
Cobb made amends for his blunder with a 55-yard return of the ensuing kickoff, setting up the Packers at midfield. Five plays later, a middle screen to John Kuhn resulted in a 9-yard touchdown and a 31-7 lead. Another Rodgers-to-Nelson touchdown made it 38-7, and Flynn’s scramble tacked on the final touchdown.
Afterward, Jennings and others joked about there being a “quarterback controversy.” Not so much, not with Rodgers having thrown 28 touchdowns against just three interceptions this season.
“We’re playing with the best quarterback in the game right now,” Nelson said. “It’s an honor and a privilege, and we’re enjoying every minute of it right now. Hopefully he thinks the same thing about his receiving corps. He’s just being smart with the ball. He’s not taking chances. Hopefully, we’re making it somewhat easy for him, getting open and getting separation, and he’s fitting it into tight windows and causing problems. He keeps doing his job, we’ll keep doing ours and we’ll keep moving forward.”
Game Notes: The Packers have scored at least 24 points in a franchise-record nine consecutive games. … Rodgers set a team record with two-plus touchdown passes in nine straight games, snapping a tie with Brett Favre (1994). … With one sack, Allen has a league-high 13.5. He has at least one-half sack in a Vikings-record 11 consecutive games. … The Vikings were 17-5 after their bye, including 4-1 the previous five seasons.