NFC North Champs: dominant defense, Jones key to Packers victory

FOX Football Insider
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After clinching the NFC North Division title at U.S. Bank Stadium Monday night, the Green Bay Packers celebrated in style in the visitor’s locker room.

From one end of the narrow locker room to the other, players whooped and hollered as they donned their NFC North Champion T-shirts and hats after their impressive 23-10 victory over rival Minnesota.  For the 10-5 Vikings, it was their first home loss of the season.

Linebacker Za’Darius Smith, a dominant force with 3.5 sacks on a suffocating Packers defense that yielded just seven first downs, smiled and told his teammates it was “party time” before holding his customary joint media session with teammate Preston Smith.

The 12-3 Packers won for the first time in four tries at U.S. Bank Stadium since it opened in 2016, making Matt LaFleur the 10th rookie coach in National Football League history to win 12 games in their first season.

2016 was the last time Green Bay claimed a division title, but this year the Packers can assure themselves of a #2 seed and have a bye week before hosting a NFC Divisional Game at Lambeau Field in January with a win at Detroit in the season finale Sunday.

The Packers-Lions game, (shown exclusively in Western Wisconsin on FOX 25/48) kicks off at 12 noon.

The Green Bay offense got off to a rough start Monday night, turning the ball over three times in the first half.  Their defense held the Vikings to just 10 points off the turnovers and the Packers trailed just 10-9 at intermission thanks to Mason Crosby field goals of 42, 44, and 19 yards—the last as time expired in the second quarter.

How good was the Green Bay defense in the first half?

Minnesota, without star back Dalvin Cook, registered just two first downs and 68 net yards.  The lone Vikings highlight was quarterback Kirk Cousins—now 0-9 in his career in Monday night games—perfect throw to Stefon Diggs for a 21-yard touchdown over defender Jaire Alexander for a 10-3 lead early in the second quarter.

“We turned the ball over, but our defense kept us in the game,’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers said in his post-game press conference, who credited LaFleur with sticking to the game plan of running the football despite the offense’s shaky start.

The second half belonged to Green Bay.

The defense kept up its stifling performance and running back Aaron Jones got untracked.

Jones, who rushed 23 times for 154 yards for a lofty 6.7-yard average, scoring both touchdowns after intermission.   His first came on a 12-yard run late in the third quarter as the Packers capitalized on Kevin King’s interception of Cousins.  Rodgers hit Geronimo Allison with the 2-point conversion pass for a 17-10 lead.

His second sealed the victory with 5:51 remaining in the game, as Jones broke off a 56-yard touchdown run for a 23-10 lead as Crosby missed the extra point.  Blocks by tackle David Bakhtiari and receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling opened an alley on the left side and Jones outran Vikings defenders down the sideline.

The chants of “Go Pack Go” sent the bulk of Vikings fans streaming for the stadium exits by the 2-minute warning.

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