Xavier Rhodes was just beginning to look the part, having perhaps his best game as a rookie, when a concussion ended it early for him Sunday at Lambeau Field.
With a defensive backfield already thinned as far it could handle, Rhodes was being looked to for his first start as the left cornerback in the base defense. Josh Robinson had suffered a fractured sternum a week early and Rhodes was set to be tested at a position he could secure for the future.
The early returns were looking strong.
He finished with four tackles and four passes defensed, tying the single-game high of Marcus Sherels for any of the Vikings' defensive backs this season. Sherels' four passes knocked away came against the Cleveland Browns in the third game of the season, but that and Rhodes' performance against the New York Giants are the only two previous times a Vikings defensive back has had more than two passes defensed in a game. Rhodes already entered the game leading the team with 11 passes defensed and widened his lead with 15 on the year.
Intent on pressuring backup quarterbacks Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn into early decisions, the Vikings blitzed often and played Rhodes in press man, a strategy that appeared to work.
Three of Rhodes passes defensed came on passes intended for WR James Jones, who was targeted a game-high 12 times for seven receptions and 80 yards. Rhodes' four tackles came on passes that gained a combined 21 yards against him.
His final pass defensed knocked him out of the game temporarily. He was in perfect position on a pass intended for Jarrett Boykins, got two hands on the ball and nearly made the leaping interception. Instead, he was rewarded by Boykin landing on top of him. The rookie cornerback returned and made it to overtime before he was knocked out of the game for good with a concussion.
"He's a long guy and there were times today where his length really helped him. He was more physical at the line of scrimmage, and I think he is growing as a rookie in our league," head coach Leslie Frazier said. "He is getting more experience and understanding things a little bit better. You can't say the game is slowing down for him yet – there are still some moments there – but it was without question his best game as far as getting his hands on balls and just not letting things get him flustered."
Rhodes had previously made two starts in the base defense – against the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins – but those were both at right cornerback for Chris Cook. He also started the first game of the season when the Detroit Lions opened with three receivers.
ROBISON STARTS, PLAYS STRONG
Brian Robison was listed as questionable on Friday's injury report after suffering muscle spasms in his neck during Thursday's practice. But once in the game, there was little question that he played well.
He was credited with one of only two sacks for the Vikings – and the only one going to a defensive lineman. He finished with four tackles, the 11-yard sack, was credited with two quarterback hits and had several more pressures.
Based off the combination of sacks, knockdowns and hurries heading into the game, Robison was the team's leading pass rushing, according to STATS LLC, with 33 while Jared Allen had 22½ and Everson Griffen had 15.
COLE IMPRESSIVE IN DEBUT
Welcome to the starting lineup, Audie Cole. In his first NFL start, Cole played all 94 defensive snaps – 14 more than the Vikings have played in any other game this year.
Audie Cole entered Sunday's game having played only six snaps on defense. Filling in for middle linebacker Erin Henderson, who didn't play because of personal reasons, Cole was a productive workhorse in his first NFL start.
He finished the game with 13 tackles, one sack for 7 yards, two tackles for loss and three quarterback hits.
"Audie did a terrific job. I think they told me he finished with 13 tackles; I didn't know his stats, but just seeing how active he was, how much in control he was of our defense, and the way he orchestrated things throughout the day," Frazier said. "He had a great week of practice, the way he prepared, so his performance was very, very good. I think it helped our defense. I think our defense did a lot of good things today and I think Audie had a lot to do with that. "
RUN DEFENSE STRUGGLES
The Vikings struggled to get Packers rookie running back Eddie Lacy to the ground on first contact.
In his last six games, Lacy was averaging 24 carries a game, but only 2.6 yards per carry in his last two games.
Against the Vikings, Lacy had 110 yards on 25 carries – a 4.4-yard average, and added a touchdown on the ground. He also caught six passes for 48 yards.
As a team, the Packers had 196 yards rushing and a 5.8-yard average per run. It was Green Bay's fifth game with 180 yards or more on the season.
The Packers had 494 yards of offense, their second-highest total of the season (580 yards vs. Washington in Week 2), and 30 first downs, the most since Sept. 30, 2012 vs. New Orleans.
All of the Vikings that were listed as "questionable" on Friday's injury report – RB Adrian Peterson (groin), WR Greg Jennings (Achilles), C John Sullivan (concussion), DE Brian Robison (neck) and LB Michael Mauti (knee) – were active.
Josh Robinson (chest), Henderson (personal reasons) and TE Kyle Rudolph (foot) were all inactive, along with scratches for QB Josh Freeman, G Jeff Baca, WR Rodney Smith and DT Chase Baker.
But the Vikings suffered additional injuries during the game. WR Joe Webb and Rhodes both left with concussions, as did CB A.J. Jefferson with a neck injury.
Jared Allen also appeared to tweak his ankle but returned to the game, and Letroy Guion suffered a foot injury but returned.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Notebook: Young defenders impressive vs. Pack
Viking Update Top Stories
Preview: Panthers have talent all aroundThe short-handed Minnesota Vikings will have their hands full with a Carolina Panthers roster loaded with talent, depth and confidence.
Viking Update8:20 AM
Vikings not worried about absence of FloydThe Minnesota Vikings defensive line is confident in their abilities without the 'explosive' defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd on the field.
Viking Update7:32 AM
Podcast: Getting flipped off by a Packers fanThe Minnesota Vikings are working through injuries, but don’t expect sympathy from Packers fans, as one of them flips us off and then throws cheese curds at us as we discuss the…
Viking Update6:49 AM
Where do we go from here?As injuries to key players mount, the best thing the 2016 Minnesota Vikings have going is the myopia that makes the NFL great. For the fans? It may be a very different story when…
Viking Update3:43 AM