MINNEAPOLIS – Not having wide receiver Jordy Nelson for the entire season might have been a legitimate excuse for quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers going through the final two-thirds of last season without one of those “wow” games they seemed to regularly produce.
Now, two games into Nelson’s 2016 comeback from ACL surgery, the offense looks the same and Rodgers seems stuck in the same nowhere land that harbored him most of last year.
On a night when the Packers needed Rodgers to do something special, he was less than ordinary, completing 20 of 36 passes for 213 yards and a touchdown, and coughing the ball up four times, two resulting in turnovers that cemented a 17-14 Minnesota Vikings victory in the regular-season debut of brand new U.S. Bank Stadium Sunday.
“We’re not going to over-react,” Rodgers said. “It’s been two weeks. We haven’t quite found our rhythm yet, but we had some guys working in who hadn’t worked a lot together so we trust the process and believe we can get this thing turned around.
“We have kind of an awkward schedule here. We have a game next week at home, a bye and then three at home. We have to find our rhythm here as we head back home.”
Coach Mike McCarthy made reference to the four-game road trip the Packers have been on since the final two weeks of training camp and the two difficult environments they faced in Weeks 1 and 2. After playing in the torrid temperatures in Jacksonville, they played inside a dome every bit as loud as the Metrodome.
But those environments don’t exactly explain why Rodgers hasn’t had a 100 passer rating game since Week 6 of last season and has thrown just 12 touchdowns to five interceptions in his last seven games. The Packers were completely healthy on offense against the Vikings and received plenty of help from the officials when it came to penalties in the Minnesota secondary.
Maybe McCarthy should have known this was going to be a disaster when Davante Adams fumbled the ball after a catch on the first play of the game. Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo picked up the ball and tried to run with it, but Randall Cobb ripped it from his hands to give the Packers possession again.
Things seemed to go that way all night for the Packers. Rodgers lost two fumbles and threw an interception, but the Packers kept finding ways to stay in the game and were twice knocking on the door on a game-tying field goal in the fourth quarter.
BOX SCORE: Vikings 17, Packers 14
“The rhythm in the passing game is not what we wanted,” McCarthy said. “That starts with me. We’ll go back and look at the first two weeks and evaluate everything. We will improve.”
Rodgers said he had no answer for his accuracy problems.
Too many times he threw the ball down the field hoping one of his receivers would make a play and came up empty. Other times, he just flat out missed receivers.
He had a chance early in the game to get Nelson down the field on the left side and overthrew him. He had a chance to do that with Adams on the same type of route later in the game and overthrew him.
“It depends on the play and the route and the protection,” Rodgers said of reasons for the inaccuracy. “It’s tough to say without being specific on certain plays. We’ll go back and look at the film and critique ourselves hard and find a way to get better.”
Rodgers and the offense were dreadful in so many ways yet still in the ball game the entire way.
They were 6 of 13 on third downs, but too many times they were not converting when headed into Vikings territory. The Vikings used both safeties back much of the time in order to make it tough on Rodgers to go down the field, but McCarthy wouldn’t commit to the run to take advantage of it.
The times Rodgers had his most success was when Vikings coach Mike Zimmer dialed up blitzes. The Packers did a solid job picking them up and Rodgers took advantage of some of the matchups over the middle.
Rodgers seemed to rely too heavily on Nelson, targeting him 11 times and connecting just five times for 73 yards. Nelson was successful working on Vikings cornerback Trae Waynes, but late in the game the Vikings had Terence Newman on him.
Randall Cobb continued to have only a slight impact in the passing game, averaging 8.4 yards on five receptions and tight end Jared Cook caught four passes for 31 yards but made a huge mistake on a third down when he lost a first down by circling away from a defender and trying to gain extra yardage.
This doe not look anything like an offense that is set to set the world on fire.
“It’s Week 2, there’s always a lot of work to do,” Rodgers said. “We’re close at times. We just need to figure out what our identity is. That’s created throughout the season. We’re trying some different things.
“We had some success with two-tight end stuff at times. We just didn’t have enough success on third down and we turned the ball over too much.”
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