The Vikings, with their dynamic front four, felt they had the better of the matchups. And at least for the first quarter, it appeared a jittery Packers offensive line had bought into the hype.
Most of the troubles for the Packers' blockers were mental. Fill-in starting right guard Tony Moll was penalized twice for being an ineligible lineman downfield on a passing play. The second of the infractions was a potential killer, wiping out a beautiful 68-yard catch-and-run touchdown by Donald Driver.
The line was penalized five times during the first quarter alone, with left tackle Chad Clifton getting flagged for holding, lining up off the line of scrimmage and holding again. In between, Daryn Colledge jumped the snap by a count and Moll got hit with a tripping penalty.
"I just thought the game was (called) pretty close," right tackle Mark Tauscher said. "We were sloppy, and it's kind of a first game. We weren't fundamentally sound, obviously. When you get that many penalties, we weren't as sound as we needed to be."
The line's gaffes put quarterback Aaron Rodgers in untenable situations early. On the first possession, the Packers faced second-and-17. On the second, they converted second-and-15, only to be faced with first-and-33 moments later after three consecutive penalties.
As the game went on, however, the Packers' linemen performed better. They gave Rodgers all day on his bomb to Greg Jennings that set up the first touchdown, though the line was unable to punch it on three running plays from near the goal line. The next drive, which resulted in a field goal, started with Ryan Grant bursting up the middle behind Jason Spitz on a vintage cutback that picked up 19 yards.
Finally, in the fourth quarter, the line opened the kind of gaping hole that was commonplace last season. The Packers averaged barely 3.0 yards per carry for most of the game, even with Rodgers' scrambles, until Grant bust through a massive hole off the right side. His 57-yard run — with a key block by Moll — set up Rodgers' 1-yard sneak to make it 24-12 with 6 minutes, 3 seconds remaining.
The Packers finished the night with 139 rushing yards on 27 attempts. Take away Rodgers' two kneel-downs to end the game, and the Packers averaged a gaudy 5.6 yards per rush against last year's top-ranked run defense.
Clifton, meanwhile, rebounded from his foul-prone start. Clifton held high-priced Jared Allen, who made waves last week by saying he wanted to plant his helmet in Rodgers' spine, to no tackles, no assisted tackles and no quarterback hits.
"They made some plays on us. They're a very good defensive front," Tauscher said. "You give them credit, but I think we did some good things, too."