For those who weren't believers that Aaron Rodgers is playing at a level few, if any, quarterbacks have achieved, the first drives of the two halves of Monday's 45-7 blowout win for Green Bay over the Vikings was a testament to his level of play.
Thanks to a punt return for a touchdown two minutes into the game, Rodgers had a 7-0 lead before he even took the field, but his first chance to pick apart the Vikings defense was done with surgical precision and deadly results.
His first play from scrimmage was a bust. Forced to break from the pocket, Rodgers lost control of the ball and had to flop on it for a 7-yard loss. On the next play, he was flushed again. Rather than standing tall and taking another sack, Rodgers avoided the pass rush and scrambled for nine yards. He converted the third-and-8 play with a 22-yard pass to Donald Driver that few quarterbacks in the league would attempt, much less complete. The coverage was as solid as it could be, but the ball was put in the one spot where Driver could make the catch to keep the drive alive. He would convert two more third-down plays and, when the Vikings got into a look that tipped to Rodgers that he would have Greg Jennings in single coverage, he hit him in stride for a 24-yard touchdown. Less than five minutes after taking the field, the Packers had a 14-0 lead.
"We were hitting him. It comes back to guys doing their job. We've got to cover guys. We've got to get to him," Vikings defensive end Jared Allen said. "We've got to capitalize on third-and-long. I don't think we got off the field on third down to save our lives today. He's in the zone right now. He's a heck of a player, so hats off to them. I hope they win it all now."
The Vikings were able to stop the bleeding and had a couple of stops late in the first half that gave them some hope that a comeback was still possible – not probable, but possible. Rodgers would dash those hopes on the first drive of the second half.
Getting the opening kick of the second half, Rodgers quickly got the Packers across midfield with a 23-yard strike to Jordy Nelson. Three plays later, faced with a fourth-and-2 from the Vikings 36-yard line, Packers coach Mike McCarthy kept Rodgers on the field rather than trying a 53-yard field goal. Rodgers rewarded that decision when he found Nelson wide open for a 12-yard gain and another first down. Two plays later, he threw a screen to Nelson, who shook off Cedric Griffin and rolled 17 yards for a touchdown.
There's no questioning that Rodgers is having an MVP season, but his dominance on the first drives of both halves showed why the Packers have a legitimate shot of going undefeated. The first drive the game, he completed 5 of 5 passes for 62 yards and a touchdown and ran twice for 12 yards. On the first drive of the second half, he completed 4 of 5 passes for 58 yards and another touchdown. His initial drive gave Green Bay a 14-0 lead and put the Minnesota offense on its heels. His first drive of the second half gave the Packers a 24-0 lead and, for all intents, put the game away.
"It's the best game because of the margin of victory. At the end of the day, it's about points," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.
The Vikings came into Monday's game knowing that if they wanted any chance to win, they would have to find a way to contain Rodgers. Instead, he showed why he is the best in the business right now and why the Vikings need a lot of re-tooling if they expect to knock him off his perch any time soon.
"I thought we would come out and do a little bit better in that first half than we did," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "It was still a competitive game at the half, but obviously what they did in the second half shows the gap between our team and their team."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Rodgers daggers Vikings with first drives
Viking Update Top Stories
Winning isn’t contagious in NFLIs winning three of every five games enough to make an NFL team elite? A lengthy sample size shows few teams are better than that on a regular basis.
Viking Update5:02 AM
Podcast: Moss returned, Zimmer refreshedViking Update publisher Tim Yotter and Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan talk about Randy Moss, Mike Zimmer, Sam Bradford vs. Teddy Bridgewater, and MVP odds.
Viking UpdateYesterday at 8:38 AM
Jones knows his role, unlike in Green BayDatone Jones never found his calling in Green Bay, making position switch after position switch. Now with the Minnesota Vikings, the former first-round pick is excited to get a…
Viking UpdateYesterday at 7:16 AM
Murray: I’m getting the ballLatavius Murray has fallen behind Minnesota Vikings rookie Dalvin Cook while the veteran recovers from surgery, but Murray is not backing away from taking a job he believes is his.
Viking UpdateYesterday at 4:03 AM