MINNEAPOLIS – The Pack is back.
After a three-game losing streak filled with uninspired play on offense and up-and-down production on defense, the Green Bay Packers served notice that their 2015 obituary had been penned too soon.
Going into first-place Minnesota, the Packers ruined the Vikings’ five-game winning streak and forged a tie with their rivals atop the NFC North with a 30-13 victory on a chilly Sunday evening at TCF Bank Stadium.
Aaron Rodgers completed less than half of his passes but threw two touchdowns and Eddie Lacy rushed for 100 yards, while the defense collected six sacks and limited Adrian Peterson to just 45 yards a week after he rumbled for more than 200 at Oakland.
"I don’t think it was a gut check at all internally," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "I’m very proud of the team the way they stayed the course. This is a process we talked about. We’ve been very open about it, this stretch of games is going to be the toughest stretch of our season hopefully. Really the preparation was reflected in today’s performance. It may sound like coach-speak or whatever you want to take with it, but that’s the facts."
With Green Bay leading 19-6, the Vikings got back in the game with a quick 63-yard touchdown drive late in the third quarter. In the face of pressure, Bridgewater hit rookie receiver Stefon Diggs for 17 and tight end Kyle Rudolph for 32. On Rudolph’s catch, safety Morgan Burnett had perfect position but Rudolph won a battle for the ball. One play later, Peterson broke loose for the first time, dodging Clay Matthews’ tackle attempt at the line of scrimmage and dragging safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix for a couple yards for a 6-yard touchdown. That made it 19-13 with 2:37 to go in the third.
That set up Green Bay for its biggest drive of the season. On first-and-15, Rodgers hit Davante Adams for a catch-and-run gain of 16. Then, on third-and-6, Rodgers escaped to his left and threw a bomb to James Jones, who initially dropped the ball but hauled it in while tumbling to the ground for a gain of 37. On third-and-9 on the first play of the fourth quarter, Rodgers again escaped the pocket, this time moving to the right, and fired a pass to Jones, who made a brilliant catch while running out of bounds for a 27-yard touchdown. That made it 25-13. Coach Mike McCarthy went for two, with Rodgers stepping up in the pocket and, just as it appeared Rodgers would run to the goal line, he flipped it to Jones for the conversion.
With Minnesota driving, Peterson broke one tackle and was fighting for more yardage when Burnett punched it out. Sam Shields recovered, giving Green Bay the ball at its 21 with 13:20. Chants of “Go Pack Go!” – certainly not the first of this day – rang out through the stadium.
Green Bay couldn’t do anything with the turnover, but neither could the Vikings after the punt, with Mike Daniels and Datone Jones recording back-to-back sacks. It was their sixth of the day after going without one for the past three games.
Mason Crosby’s fifth field goal, a 52-yarder, made it 30-13 and clinched the game with 4:14 remaining.
"Maybe we’ll get you guys off our back for a couple days," Rodgers said. "You know, we’ve been taking it on the chin – rightfully so – the last three weeks, had a couple real poor performances. This was a real important week for us. We really stuck together. We had some good conversations about what it’s going to take to get this 'W' and be standing here and have this feeling, which is a great feeling, and be back in first and kind of control our own fate from here."
The Packers led 16-6 at halftime thanks to a superb defensive effort and a late touchdown drive.
Leading 9-6, the Packers took possession at their 20 with 2:13 remaining. On third-and-16, Rodgers escaped to his right and fired deep to Jeff Janis, who had a step on Vikings cornerback Terence Newman. The ball was underthrown and Newman wound up grabbing Janis as Janis tried to make a play on the ball. The 50-yard gain, a 14-yard completion to Jones and an illegal-contact penalty on linebacker Anthony Barr on third-and-9 gave the Packers a first-and-goal from the 10. On third-and-goal from the 10 with 10 seconds remaining, Rodgers fired a bullet to Randall Cobb against Captain Munnerlyn for the touchdown.
Minnesota took a 6-3 lead late in the first quarter when Bridgewater hit Rudolph for a 47-yard touchdown on its second possession of the game. Defensive back Micah Hyde went for the pass breakup but the ball went over his head, and Rudolph ran the final 30 yards for the score – with Hyde exiting the game with a hip injury on a failed tackle attempt at the 11.
Otherwise, Green Bay’s defense dominated the action. On Minnesota’s third possession, Jones sacked Bridgewater for a loss of 18. On Minnesota’s fourth possession, Green Bay drew a holding penalty. The key possession was Minnesota’s fifth, which started at the Packers’ 42 following a deflected punt by Jerick McKinnon. On first down, Matthews and B.J. Raji dropped Peterson for minus-3. On second down, Peppers sacked Bridgewater – knocking him from the game briefly with an injured left shoulder. On third down, backup quarterback Shaun Hill was flushed from the pocket and threw incomplete. That set the stage for Green Bay’s touchdown drive.
Green Bay tacked on a field goal to open the second half. Lacy, who had done nothing since the San Francisco game on Oct. 4, had runs of 8, 7, 8 and 2 yards, with a 30-yard screen to James Starks mixed in. Crosby’s fourth field goal, a 42-yarder, made it 19-6.
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.