Insider: Thumbs up to Hayward, down to risking injury
THE BIG PICTURE
Sure, the Vikings were missing their franchise running back (Adrian Peterson) and their ascending starting quarterback (Teddy Bridgewater), but neither would have made enough of a difference Thursday night.
As it was, the Packers got their groove back and went 2-1 in the dangerous stretch that had them playing three NFC North Division opponents in 12 days, including two on the road.
This one got out of hand early, but the punch that knocked the wind out of the Vikings came on the Packers' third possession, with 51/2 minutes left in the first quarter. On the fourth play of the drive, holding a 7-0 lead, Green Bay had the ball on its 34.
Aaron Rodgers had completed three short passes to that point while Eddie Lacy and James Starks had kept the Vikings' defense honest with a strong running attack. But on second-and-7, Rodgers ran a deceptive play-action fake to Starks, and Jordy Nelson torched safety Harrison Smith with a fake move to the outside.
When Smith bit, it left Nelson wide open in the middle of the field and Rodgers hit him in stride for the 66-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
Casey Hayward largely has been a nonfactor on defense this season.
Entering Thursday night's game, the third-year cornerback had played only 27 percent of Green Bay's defensive snaps, including zero in Week 2 against the Jets. But he made a huge impact against Minnesota, including a second-quarter fumble recovery.
His biggest hit came on the Vikings' first possession of the second quarter, when on third-and-3, he drilled running back Matt Asiata to jar the ball loose, forcing an incompletion and a punt. On the series in which he recovered the Asiata fumble, Hayward was involved in tackles on three of the drive's other five plays.
Hayward also stood out on special teams, making a nice tackle of dangerous Cordarrelle Patterson at the 21 on the Vikings' first kickoff return. He added another kickoff return tackle later in the game, had two passes defensed and a quarterback hit.
Leading 42-10 and deep into garbage time, the Packers' defense included starters Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, A.J. Hawk, Sam Shields and Tramon Williams. Surely, there were other, less-valuable — not to mention lesser-paid — players to put on the field for the Vikings' final possession.
Jayrone Elliott? Nick Perry? Jarrett Bush? Davon House? This game was over before the fourth quarter started. Why take an unnecessary risk, especially with Matthews, who has been battling a groin injury?
DID YOU NOTICE?
Aaron Rodgers threw for his 200th career touchdown in his 99th game, becoming the second-fastest quarterback to reach that milestone behind Dan Marino, who had 200 in 89 games.
Packers punter Tim Masthay had three consecutive punts of 58 yards in the first half. After a slow start to the season, Masthay bounced back on a drizzly night with six punts (five inside the 20) for a 50.7 average.
Former Packers star receiver Greg Jennings caught only two passes (on six targets) for 31 yards.
The Vikings haven't won at Lambeau Field since Nov. 1, 2009.
The last time the Packers played three divisional games in 12 days was Nov. 16-27, 1986, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
RANTS AND RAVES
RAVE: The Packers' defense held an opposing quarterback to a passer rating below 83.0 for the fourth straight game. In order: New York Jets' Geno Smith 64.1, Detroit's Matthew Stafford 61.6, Chicago's Jay Cutler 82.5 and Minnesota's Christian Ponder 45.8.
RANT: OK, call it petty, but backup quarterback Matt Flynn did not look good in his mop-up roll. The seventh-year veteran, entrusted with running the offense should misfortune strike again, threw an interception on his first play. He finished 3-of-5 for 22 yards and a 30.8 quarterback rating.
RAVE: For at least one week, the running game was back. Green Bay running backs combined for 157 yards on 27 carries for a 5.8-yard average. They had six runs of 10 yards or more, including two of those for touchdowns.