However, showing the ability to win in something other than a runaway, the Packers got two touchdown passes from Aaron Rodgers and key late running by Eddie Lacy to hold off the Minnesota Vikings 24-21 at TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday.
The Packers (8-3) have won three in a row and seven of their last eight to move into first place in the NFC North, with Detroit (7-4) losing at New England. The Patriots (9-2) play at Lambeau Field next Sunday.
It wasn’t easy. With Green Bay leading 24-13, Minnesota scored patiently drove 79 yards for a touchdown. On second-and-goal from the 5, the Packers lost Greg Jennings, who lined up in the right slot and ran a crossing route to the left for an easy touchdown pass from erratic rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The Vikings used the same play on the two-point play, this time to receiver Charles Johnson. That made it 24-21 with 3:23 remaining.
That forced the Packers to run out the clock. Runs of 3 and 5 yards by Lacy made it third-and-2 with Minnesota calling it second timeout with 2:31 to play for a do-or-die play. Lacy picked it up, with a quick-hitting run up the middle for 4 yards and a first down, which ran the clock down to the two-minute warning.
Lacy then thundered for runs of 5 and 10 yards for another first down to run out the clock. He finished the game with 25 carries for 125 yards.
After back-to-back games of 50-plus points, the Packers’ offense had a difficult after against Mike Zimmer’s defense. However, Green Bay put together the key drive of the game to start the fourth quarter.
Starting from their 13, Rodgers moved the chains on a third-and-1 slant to Jordy Nelson that gained 11 and an 18-yard scramble as the Vikings sent six rushers on third-and-6. Lacy then ran for 15 behind pulling guard Josh Sitton to the 15 before scoring on a perfectly executed shovel pass for a 10-yard score. Sitton made the key block on linebacker Chad Greenway on the 5 to make it 24-13 with 8:34 remaining.
Green Bay extended its lead to 17-13 with 2:49 to go in the third quarter. The big plays came early, with a second-and-11 completion of 14 yards to Nelson and a roughing-the-passer penalty tacking on 15 yards, then a dropped interception by safety Harrison Smith on the next play.
The Vikings pulled with 14-13 midway through the third quarter on a 51-yard field goal by Blair Walsh. Matthews deflected one pass by Bridgewater, which fluttered helplessly to the ground. Another pass was broken up by Tramon Williams, with Micah Hyde almost making a diving interception. Just before the field goal, Bridgewater threw deep to Johnson, with the Packers getting a major break when Sam Shields fell in coverage but the wayward pass bouncing off Johnson’s hands to prevent an easy touchdown.
The Packers led 14-10 at halftime, with Lacy scoring on a 1-yard run and Richard Rodgers catching a 1-yard pass.
A key moment came in the second quarter with Green Bay leading 7-0. The Vikings had a third-and-10 from the Packers’ 44, with Bridgewater scrambled for 5 yards but the Vikings were flagged for an illegal shift. Given the choice of fourth-and-5 from the 39 or third-and-15 from the 49, coach Mike McCarthy declined the penalty. The Vikings converted when Micah Hyde was penalized for defensive holding, which negated a deep interception by safety Morgan Burnett. Minnesota later converted a fourth-and-1, then scored on Bridgewater’s 22-yard touchdown pass to former Packers draft pick Johnson.
Green Bay took a 14-7 lead on a 53-yard scoring drive set up by Hyde’s interception. The score came on a Rodgers-to-Rodgers connection in which Aaron Rodgers drifted to his right and threw back to Richard Rodgers, who was all alone in the left corner of the end zone. The ball probably traveled 40 yards, with Rodgers’ throw all the more remarkable because he was hit by Brian Robison upon releasing the ball.
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.