On a night when the NFL's top-scoring offense looked decidedly mediocre for much of the first half, the Packers' special teams and defense were the difference in giving them a 17-0 lead at halftime. When the offense got on track in the third quarter, the Vikings' fate was sealed and the Packers coasted to a 45-7 victory.
With the Packers in command, MVP frontrunner Aaron Rodgers got to watch the final 10:30. 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.
Coach Mike 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 Randall Cobb's 80-yard touchdown return.
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 for Rodgers 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 Jared 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 in the first half 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, however, 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 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 backup quarterback Matt Flynn's scramble tacked on the final touchdown.
It was clearly the best night of the season for the Packers' 30th-ranked defense. When these teams met three weeks ago, Peterson rushed for 175 yards and 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 just 216 when they took possession with 4:27 remaining.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.