Green Bay Packers fullback John Kuhn (30) greets Jordy Nelson (87) after Nelson's second quarter touchdown Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome. / Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette Media
MINNEAPOLIS — The Green Bay Packers couldn’t have bid a more satisfying adieu to the Metrodome.
Displaying their new offensive identity playing without Randall Cobb and Jermichael Finley, the Packers used a punishing running game and ultra-sharp performance from quarterback Aaron Rodgers to dominate the ball and the Minnesota Vikings in a 44-31 win.
The victory was more decisive than the score might suggest, as evidenced by Vikings fans starting to exit the game early in the fourth quarter after the Packers had opened a 24-point lead on James Starks’ 25-yard touchdown run. By the final minutes, the Metrodome, which will be demolished in the offseason, wasn’t even half-full, and those remaining were mostly Packers fans.
“Very impressed with our football team tonight,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “Obviously, the adjustments that you have to make throughout the week, really the last two weeks (because of the injuries) ... Lot of good things on offense. We didn’t punt. We were able to get in our different personnel groups, we haven’t done a lot of that this year. So we really kind of had to change the style and the management of our game. I can’t give Aaron Rodgers and our players enough credit for doing that. It was an adjustment coming into the game, and they handled it extremely well.”
The victory was the Packers’ fourth straight and kept them in first place in the NFC North Division at 5-2, a half-game ahead of the 5-3 Detroit Lions. The Vikings’ season, on the other hand, is on a fast downward spiral at 1-6 and with some of the worst quarterback play in the NFL.
“I think we have the arrow pointing the right way,” defensive lineman Ryan Pickett said.
The Packers’ performance suggested that as long as they have Rodgers and Eddie Lacy they’ll be fine on offense regardless of injuries, at least against most teams.
The Packers won this game soundly by dominating both sides of the line of scrimmage and putting up one of their best ball-control performances in recent memory. They won the total yardage battle decisively — 464 yards to 243 — but the most telling number was time of possession. The Packers had the ball for a little more than two-thirds of the game (40 minutes, 54 seconds), never turned the ball over and scored every time they possessed the ball except when they ran out the final 1:23 with two Rodgers’ kneeldowns.
“I got the chance to watch (the offense) a lot today,” cornerback Tramon Williams said with a laugh. “It was great. That’s what you want, the offense to possess the clock, move the ball, score. The defense to get three-and-outs and get off the field. We did that for the most part.”
Said Pickett: “(The offense) was physical. I just watched the O-line the whole game, loved watching them, they were so physical. People don’t talk about it, but that’s a physical bunch. They get after people.”
When the Vikings’ dynamic rookie receiver Cordarrelle Patterson took back the game’s opening kickoff 109 yards for a touchdown, it looked like the Packers were in for a hard slog against their struggling division rival. But kickoff returns ended up being the Vikings’ best chance of making a play, because the Packers dominated the rest of the day.
Their halfbacks, Lacy and James Starks, combined for 151 yards on 36 carries, which helped take the Metrodome crowd out of the game. The 230-pound Lacy pounded his way to a tough 94 yards on 29 carries, and Starks in his first game back after missing three games with a torn MCL looked as physical and fast as he did early in training camp while gaining 57 yards on seven carries.
“Good player,” Williams said of Lacy. “James came back today, too, and looked good. I think we’ll have a good, nice rotation back there. It’s kind of a balance thing now (between run and pass). It’s something we’ve been looking for, and I think they’ve found it. When you have balance it makes game planning a lot harder (for the defense).”
With a viable run game, Rodgers’ ability to convert third and fourth downs drained whatever life sprang back into the Metrodome crowd when it looked like the Vikings’ defense might get a stop. The Packers converted 13 of 18 third downs and both fourth downs they went for. Rodgers hit Jordy Nelson on completions that converted four third downs, including a 76-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter that put the Packers up for good at 17-10, and another that converted a fourth down.
Rodgers also scrambled to convert three third downs, hit second-year pro Jarrett Boykin for 55 yards worth of completions to convert three other third downs, and generally played his best game of the season. He finished with a rating of 130.6 and was on the money all night (24-of-29 passing),with most of his five incompletions throwaways.
Without Finley and Cobb, the Packers operated at a slower pace than earlier in the season, when they ran primarily a no-huddle offense. But their run game is giving Rodgers protection that he lacked in his previous five years as their quarterback.
“I think this is really shaping up to be one of Aaron’s best years,” McCarthy said. “Aaron’s had a lot of challenges Monday through Saturday that don’t show up on a stat sheet. Just the change, just trying to get on the same page with younger players, trusting the game plan.
“Because when you are as productive as we’ve been, there was such a comfort with our no-huddle and just we really felt like we were really rolling on all cylinders, so now we’ve kind of had to go in a different direction. He has to command it, and this thing obviously wouldn’t work without him.”