Aaron Rodgers is healthy and the Green Bay Packers are hot.
After playing through hamstring and calf injuries that left him hobbling the past month, Rodgers put on a clinic against the rival Minnesota Vikings. Rodgers was 28 of 38 for 347 yards with four touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 136.6 as the Packers rolled to a 38-25 victory on Saturday at Lambeau Field.
The Packers (9-6), who have won five in a row since Rodgers proclaimed the Packers would “run the table” after a fourth consecutive loss sent them to 4-6, will play for the NFC North championship at Detroit on Jan. 1. The Lions (9-5) play at Dallas on Monday.
“Feels like the best thing we could hope for,” said Rodgers, who has 11 touchdowns and no interceptions during the streak. “We had some adversity and we stuck together. I’m really proud of the character of the football team. We talk a lot about identity and character and how it’s been one of those trying seasons where it hasn’t quite come together at the right time. But over the last five weeks, we’ve shown a lot of mental toughness, a lot of grit, and guys sticking together when there could have been some fracturing. So, I think that’s the identity of this football team, we’re going to push it right to the very end, and we’re going to stick together and believe in each other.”
The Vikings (7-8) are going the other direction. After a 5-0 start, they lost for the eighth time in 10 games and are eliminated from postseason contention. The defeat was the culmination of a horrible 24 hours. The Vikings’ plane into nearby Appleton, Wis., landed safely in a snowstorm on Friday but skidded off the runway. The players and coaches were stuck on the plane for more than four hours before being helped off two at a time with help of a firetruck.
“I don’t think so,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said of the incident having an impact on his team’s performance. “I think we played hard. I just don’t think we played good. I don’t think the plane ride had anything to do with it or anything else. There’s no excuses.”
If there were any doubts about Rodgers' health, he answered them late in the first half. On first-and-goal at the 6, Rodgers spun away from defensive end Everson Griffen at the 20 and dodged cornerback Xavier Rhodes near the goal line for the score and a 28-13 halftime lead.
With Randall Cobb inactive (ankle), Jordy Nelson was Rodgers’ favorite target with nine catches for 154 yards and two touchdowns.
Sam Bradford threw for 382 yards and three touchdowns, with 12 receptions for 202 yards and two touchdowns by Adam Thielen. Linebacker Eric Kendricks had 2.5 sacks.
“It is tough because everyone in this locker room knew how good we could be,” Thielen said. “We still had a lot of confidence going into these last few games. It is just though when you have a team that is so talented but you don’t go where you want to god. We have a lot of really good guys and great leaders. We have a lot of fighters and that is what you need to win games but, obviously, we need to execute better.”
The Packers scored a combined 27 points in losing at home to Minnesota for the NFC North title in Week 17 of last season and at Minnesota in Week 2.
They put up 28 by halftime on Saturday behind a virtuoso performance from Rodgers, who was 19 of 22 from 268 yards with three passing touchdowns, one rushing touchdown and a near-perfect passer rating of 157.0. Of Rodgers' incompletions, two went through his receivers' hands and the other was a throwaway.
“We did some new things, some wrinkles, but really the execution of the players,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “We did some really good things and, frankly, we made some mistakes in protection that resulted in sacks for them. Excellent defense, excellent players, excellent scheme, so it was a challenge and I thought our guys played very well.”
Green Bay extended its lead to 21-6 by capitalizing on an awful turnover by the Vikings. With Bradford lined up in shotgun, center Nick Easton snapped the ball as if the quarterback were under center. Defensive tackle Kenny Clark pounced on the loose ball at the Vikings' 42.
Rodgers hit Nelson for 33, scrambled for 7 and hit Nelson for the touchdown. Nelson caught the ball in the back of the end zone, sprinted to the 20 and spiked the ball. The crowd followed with "Jordy!" chants.
With Minnesota driving toward a potential score just before halftime, linebacker Clay Matthews' blind-side sack of Bradford jarred the ball loose, with defensive tackle Mike Daniels recovering at the Packers' 46. That set up Rodgers' touchdown run and Lambeau Leap celebration.
Both offenses got off to strong starts but Green Bay took a 14-6 lead because it scored two touchdowns while Minnesota settled for a pair of short field goals.
The Packers struck first on Rodgers' 21-yard touchdown pass to Nelson, who slipped a tackle from safety Andrew Sendejo and powered through Kendricks for the final few yards. Minnesota moved quickly into scoring position but settled for Kai Forbath's 22-yard field goal when Bradford missed a wide-open Thielen on second-and-goal and Matthews batted down a third-down pass.
The Packers answered with another touchdown. Nelson gained 48 when cornerback Captain Munnerlyn tripped and, one play later, Rodgers zinged a 20-yard, back-shoulder touchdown pass to Davante Adams. Once again, Minnesota mounted an excellent drive but couldn't get the final yards, with Forbath's 26-yarder making it 14-6.
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.