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Jordy Nelson, Aaron Rodgers Help Packers Roast Vikings

Aaron Rodgers was masterful again with five total touchdowns, and Jordy Nelson continued his masterful comeback season.

Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song” blared through Lambeau Field as the Green Bay Packers ran up the tunnel following a 38-25 win over the Minnesota Vikings. But it wasn’t chestnuts being roasted on an unseasonably warm 37-degree Christmas Eve day.

Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Minnesota’s Sam Bradford combined for 729 passing yards and scorched the opposing defenses for seven touchdowns. Rodgers added a rushing score, giving him five total on the day, as Green Bay won its fifth in a row since the quarterback declared his team could “run the table” and win its final six games.

If offense was on your wish list, you were in luck.

Minnesota’s Adam Thielen led all receivers with 12 catches for 202 yards and two scores — including a 71-yard, second-quarter, catch-and-run touchdown when he got past Packers cornerback Quinten Rollins on the right sideline. That would be the only touchdown the Vikings could score through more than three-and-a-half quarters, as they fell behind 38-13. 

Green Bay’s defense may have given up 446 yards, but it kept Minnesota out of the end zone when it mattered and capitalized on two turnovers.

The Packers took command early, with Rodgers — who was 28-for 38 for 347 yards and four passing touchdowns — finding favorite target Jordy Nelson for two scores by the 8:19 mark of the second quarter, sandwiching a 20-yard touchdown catch by teammate Davante Adams for a 21-6 lead. Those were Nelson’s NFL-leading 13th and 14th touchdowns on the season, as he finished with a team-leading 154 yards on nine catches. He had seven for 145 in the first half against the league’s fourth-ranked passing defense.

And on a day when Green Bay put itsef in position to play for the NFC North Division title and a playoff spot in Week 17, Rodgers and Nelson unwrapped a historic performance for the 77,856 fans in attendance.

After missing all of 2015 with a knee injury and having questions about his return to greatness encircle his head like a wreath early in the season, Nelson is having a Comeback Player of the Year type of season. Nelson was named as a Pro Bowl alternate earlier in the week — a slight, all things considered — and is climbing up the Packers’ career lists with every game.

“Jordy’s just a great player,” said tight end Richard Rodgers, who caught a 13-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. “He’s obviously a great guy; he’s been doing it all year.  A lot of people counted him out because of his knee and thought he wasn’t the same person, but I think everyone in this locker room knew that he was the same and he’d be fine.”

Fine doesn’t begin to tell the story.

Against the Vikings, Rodgers and Nelson became the most prolific duo in Packers history, with their 58th and 59th career touchdown connections. That snapped their tie with Brett Favre and Antonio Freeman, who did it 57 times. Nelson also notched his 25th 100-yard receiving game, breaking a tie with the legendary Don Hutson for third-most in Packers history.

A humbled Nelson would only look down and shake his head when told he would go down as one of the Packers’ all-time great receivers.

“It’s crazy,” Nelson said. But he refused to let himself focus on the accomplishments. “I can’t because then I’ll get distracted from what our goal is, and that’s the playoffs.”

Nelson’s connection with his quarterback and hyper focus on the end zone makes that hard to fathom. On his first score, he lined up in the left slot on third-and-4 from the 21. Coming across the middle, he found a soft spot in the Vikings’ zone between safeties Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo at the 14, then turned to run and dived across the goal line as linebacker Erik Kendricks grabbed him around the legs.

Nelson became the first Packers receiver to score 13 or more touchdowns three times in a career — only three have done it more in NFL history — while moving into third place on the franchise’s all-time list for receiving touchdowns.

Later in the first quarter, Nelson set up Adams’ touchdown, which gave the Packers a 14-3 lead, with a 48-yard catch-and-run that capitalized on a slip by cornerback Captain Munnerlyn.

Then, midway through the second quarter, Nelson scored on his shortest but most impressive play of the day. On second-and-goal from the 2, Nelson came in motion from Rodgers’ left, darted to the end zone but was held in check — literally — by Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr. As Rodgers stepped up in the pocket and then slid to his right, he pointed for Nelson to get to a spot — much as Nelson had done to his quarterback two weeks prior — before firing the ball to his receiver as he pulled away from Barr at the last second for the score. It was yet another example of the rare, otherworldly chemistry that the receiver and his quarterback share.

“Yeah, I mean, I was getting there and you kind of have to have that timing of when he’s able to throw, and we’ve discussed that in our meetings,” Nelson said. “You’ve got to let him get out of the pocket. You can’t get open too quick because he’s got to get out, get turned and get his shoulders squared up. So you kind of wait on that and then he’ll do what he does and make the play.”

After the play, Nelson took the ball, sprinted out to the 20-yard line and delivered an emphatic spike.

“Hah, I must’ve blacked out,” the typically low-key but increasingly celebratory Nelson said with a laugh.

Nelson had just two catches for 9 yards in the second half, but the damage was done. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Pro Bowl cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who’s matched up well with Nelson in past games, and other members of their secondary defied coach Mike Zimmer’s game plan, which called for Rhodes to follow Nelson wherever he lined up.

Considering how Nelson and Rodgers — who’s become a legit MVP candidate over their five-game winning streak — are playing, it might not have mattered.

“It says a lot about our time together,” Rodgers said of their bond. “It’s been fun playing with him. He’s a great player. You run out of ways to compliment him because he’s such a good teammate, he does so many things exceptionally with his route-running, his catching the ball, his second and third reactions. Just his feel. The first touchdown, it was zone pressure. He just kind of sat down, broke a tackle and scored. And, obviously, the second one was a scramble, second- and third-reaction play that we’ve done for so many years now. So it’s fun to be in the record books with such a great guy and great teammate.”

They can ring in the New Year with more records — not to mention an NFC North title and playoff berth, with a win at Detroit on Jan. 1.

W. Keith Roerdink has covered the Packers since 1992. E-mail him at karoer@msn.com.

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