MINNEAPOLIS – Aaron Rodgers had turnovers on the Packers’ final two possessions, the pivotal plays in the Green Bay’s 17-14 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday night.
Trailing 17-14, the Packers started at their 9 with 4:38 remaining. Rodgers, who had struggled throughout the night and had been outplayed by counterpart Sam Bradford, hit Randall Cobb for 14 to convert a third-and-7, ran for 10 and hit Davante Adams for 13. A sack by Linval Joseph pushed the Packers back to their 45 at the two-minute warning. Rodgers threw incomplete to Jordy Nelson at the sideline, with tight end Jared Cook available for a short pass in the flat. That set up third-and-14, when Rodgers was intercepted by Trae Waynes, who had been targeted all night by Rodgers.
Green Bay had a chance to get the ball back but Damarious Randall, who had a worse night than Waynes, as flagged for pass interference on third-and-6. It seemed like a nitpicky call but somehow was a fitting end to the game.
Bradford threw for 286 yards, including 182 to Stefon Diggs. Most of that yardage came with Randall in coverage.
A critical sequence came with about 5 minutes left in the third quarter. After Green Bay recovered its third offensive fumble – this time at the end of a third-and-8 scramble by Rodgers that got the first down – the Packers faced a fourth-and-2 from the Vikings’ 14. Packers coach Mike McCarthy bypassed a game-tying field goal in lieu of a shotgun handoff to James Starks. Starks, however, was stopped just short of the first down.
The next key moment came on the ensuing possession. After a 46-yard catch-and-run from Bradford to Diggs, Peterson injured his right leg after a 5-yard run. The crowd chanted “A.P.” as he was attended to by trainers, and he hopped off the field. The injury didn’t stop the Vikings, though. Bradford converted a third-and-3 with a 5-yard completion to Adam Thielen, then hit Diggs for a 25-yard touchdown vs. Damarious Randall, who Diggs tormented all night. It was another great pass by Bradford, who got drilled by defensive tackle Mike Daniels after the throw. That made it 17-7 with 2:11 to go in the quarter.
Green Bay answered with its best drive of the night. Two long passes were the key plays. On the first, a second-and-14, Trae Waynes was flagged for interference on a pass to Davante Adams, resulting in a gain of 28. The next came on third-and-18. Rodgers stepped up in the pocket and hit Jordy Nelson for a gain of 39 over Waynes to the 4. On third-and-goal from the 10, Rodgers danced around in the pocket, slithered through a small seam and raced to the end zone to bring Green Bay within 17-14 with 12:41 to play. Rodgers was hit by safety Andrew Sendejo about 3 yards into the end zone but J.C. Tretter was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct for protecting his quarterback.
The penalty meant Mason Crosby kicked off from the 20, with dangerous Cordarrelle Patterson returning the kick to the 44. The Packers held, though, forcing a three-and-out punt. However, a promising drive by the Packers that had reached the Vikings’ 40 died on their fourth fumble of the night. They recovered the first three but not this one, with Brian Robinson poking the ball out of Rodgers’ hand. Green Bay held and the Vikings got a big break when Jeff Locke’s bad punt rolled to the 9 with 4:38 to play.
The momentum swings were huge during the first quarter. On the first play of Green Bay’s first possession, Davante Adams was stripped by Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks. Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo recovered, only for Randall Cobb to rip the ball away from Sendejo. Green Bay couldn’t take advantage but it did the next time.
After the Packers forced a three-and-out punt, Ty Montgomery stormed up the middle to block Jeff Locke’s kick and set up Rodgers at the 48. On third-and-2, Rodgers used a play-action fake and rolled out to his right, where he threw to the end zone for Adams. Terence Newman, the Vikings’ 38-year-old corner, practically tackled Adams at the 4 for a 40-yard penalty. On second-and-goal from the 2, Newman was flagged for holding Jordy Nelson, setting up a first-and-goal from the 1. After Lacy was stopped just short of the goal line, Rodgers booted to his left and found Nelson wide open in the end zone. Trae Waynes, who was replacing star cornerback Xavier Rhodes in the lineup, was beaten badly on the play.
Green Bay dodged another bullet late in the first quarter, when Rodgers was hit by Kendricks on a delayed blitz and sacked and stripped by Danielle Hunter. Center J.C. Tretter recovered but the Vikings drove 54 yards for the tying touchdown. It was a superb drive by Bradford, who converted a fourth-and-2 on a pass to Stefon Diggs and overcame a first-and-20 after a pair of false starts. On third-and-4, Bradford hit tight end Kyle Rudolph for an 8-yard touchdown to tie the game 7-7. Safety Morgan Burnett had tight coverage but Bradford made a perfect throw despite up-the-middle pressure.
Bradford drove the Vikings to a field goal just before halftime. After three runs to Adrian Peterson gained 11 yards, Bradford went play action and hit Diggs for a gain of 44 against Damarious Randall. Blair Walsh booted a 46-yard field goal with 27 seconds left to give Minnesota a 10-7 lead.
The first-half tale of the tape showed a big discrepancy in the quarterbacks – though not what anyone would have expected before the game. Rodgers, the two-time MVP, was just 8-of-15 for 59 yards. Bradford, who was acquired from the Eagles just two weeks ago, went 16-of-23 for 175 yards and one touchdown. It was the play of Bradford that led the Vikings to the halftime lead. Green Bay, despite Letroy Guion exiting with a knee injury, held Peterson to 12 yards on nine carries. Mike Daniels dominated the first quarter, in particular, when Peterson gained 1 yard on four rushes and one reception.
Bill Huber is publisher of 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 www.twitter.com/PackerReport.