Fast start propels Packers over Vikings

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Green Bay – This time, the hot start was enough.

The Packers’ anemic offense produced just one touchdown in Chicago, but started on fire against the rival Minnesota Vikings Sunday afternoon at Lambeau Field.  The game was televised exclusively in Western Wisconsin on FOX 25/48.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers directed the offense to touchdowns on their first three possessions, bolting out to a 21-0 lead.  That would be all the scoring Green Bay needed as their opportunistic defense again preserved the victory with a fourth-quarter interception in the end zone in the 21-16 victory.

For the second consecutive week, an opposing quarterback—first Mitch Trubisky, then Kirk Cousins—made a costly decision to force a throw into the end zone in tight coverage that was intercepted late in the game by cornerback Kevin King.

“Anytime you win a division game, especially against a quality opponent like the Minnesota Vikings, you can never take that for granted,” said head coach Matt LaFleur, who notched his first home victory at Lambeau Field before 78,416 raucous fans.

“It was awesome.  It was an electric atmosphere.  I thought our crowd really did a great job of getting loud and provided that spark that we’re looking for each and every week.  It really allowed us to get out to a fast start.”

The 2-0 Packers are alone atop the NFC North Standings, with the 1-0-1 Detroit Lions in second place followed by the 1-1 Vikings and Bears.  Green Bay has now beaten Minnesota for the fifth time in the past seven games at Lambeau Field.

To Rodgers, that’s the bottom line.

“The biggest thing is that we’re 2-0,” he said in his post-game press conference.  “I know we owe a lot of that to our defense and (defensive coordinator Mike Pettine and his staff and those guys for being opportunistic and making plays when they had to.  But I think there’s still a lot of great potential in this offense.”

That potential was demonstrated in the game’s first 16 minutes, much to the delight of a home crowd on Alumni Day when the Packers organization paid special tribute to departed franchise icon Bart Starr. 

Minnesota won the opening toss and elected to defer.  On the game’s first play, Rodgers hit favorite target Davante Adams with a 39-yard strike to the Vikings 36.  Three plays later, Rogers tossed a middle screen pass to Jamaal Williams who bulled his way into the end zone for a 7-0 lead.

The Vikings answered with an eight-play drive, but Dan Bailey missed a 47-yard field goal attempt wide left to give the Packers the ball at the 37.  Rodgers promptly marched Green Bay 63-yards in 11 plays, hitting Geronimo Allison with a strike that the fifth-year receive jumped high to snare over Vikings defender Nate Medors.

The Packers defense then forced a turnover as Kenny Clark sacked Cousins and Dean Lowry recovered at the Minnesota 33.

The track meet was on.

Four plays later, Aaron Jones slammed two yards into the end zone for a seemingly comfortable 21-0 cushion.  But that quickly changed.

That cushion was cut by a third two plays later as Dalvin Cook burst 75 yards through the Packers defense to trim the deficit to 21-7.

The Packers were driving on the ensuing possession, but Allison fumbled on a first-down catch and Minnesota recovered to the Vikings 28.  Minnesota closed to within 21-10 on Bailey’s 31-yard field goal in the final minute of the half.

In an emotional tribute to Starr, his wife, Cherry, was escorted by former Packers quarterback Brett Favre to midfield for a half-time ceremony and video tribute to thunderous applause as many Packers alumni looked on.  NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue spoke, as did Cherry Starr, thanking Packers fans for their love and support.

Minnesota struck first in the second half, with Cousins burning the Green Bay defense on a 45-yard touchdown strike to Stefon Diggs to make it 21-16 as the extra point attempt was blocked.  That would be the last of the scoring.

Both teams were effective on the ground, with Minnesota riding Dalvin Cook (20 rushes, 154 yards, 7.7-yard average) on drives deep into Packers territory in the game’s final quarter.   As the Vikings adjusted after halftime and stymied the passing game, Jones (23 attempts, 116 yards, 5.0 average) rushed for 53 of his yards as Rodgers and the offense faltered and fumbled and punted five times in six second-half possessions.

The Green Bay defense bent, but did not break, preserving the victory with King’s interception of Cousin’s pass intended for Diggs in the right back corner of the south end zone with 5:17 left.

“You just can’t do that,” Cousins said of his ill-advised throw.  “It happened last week in our game, against us, and we talked about it all week how you can’t do that. It’s uncharacteristic of me. I can’t do it. What I was thinking was, give [Stefon] Diggs a chance, kind-of an ‘ours or nobody’s’ thing. It wasn’t nobody’s, he [Kevin King] went and made a play. You just can’t do that.”

“It was just a gut-wrenching loss. I’m proud of the way my teammates fought, kept fighting, but I’m very disappointed in my performance today. It just wasn’t good enough. At the quarterback position, to expect to win, I felt like with the way our team fought, we were right there at the end, as a result of the way our team kept playing. It was just a frustrating game. Walking away, I didn’t feel like I did my part today and I didn’t feel like I gave our team the chance it needed from my role. . .  I’ll stand up here and take ownership of that.”

Minnesota had two more possessions, but punted on the first and the second began with six seconds remaining and ended with a pass play and laterals that eventually were recovered by Tramon Williams at the Vikings 37 as the play clock expired.

King is excited about how the Packers defense is performing and the chemistry on the unit.

“We’re just going to keep pounding,” he said.  “This defense is very fun to play for from the top down. Everybody wants to win. Everybody wants their brothers to do good. And we’ve got a next-play mentality; good, bad or indifferent. That’s how we’re coming, so next play and we turn it up. We like the energy that’s going on.”

Former Chicago head coach Mike Ditka said the NFC North will be a hard-fought race this season.

“No one is going to run away with this division this year,” Ditka said.  “It will be a dogfight and Detroit has a shot too.  The Packers, Bears, and Vikings will beat up on each other pretty good.  4-2 may end up being good enough to win the division.”

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