THE BIG PICTURE
This victory puts the Packers back on top of the NFC North Division with a virtual one-game lead over the Vikings. More importantly, perhaps, it restored confidence in a team that appeared to be lacking it during a three-game losing skid. Every pregame factor pointed to a Minnesota victory, but Green Bay executed a game plan that aimed to shut down Adrian Peterson and make Teddy Bridgewater try to beat them. Even the offense found its swagger, with Eddie Lacy and James Jones bouncing back to form.
The Vikings had snatched back some momentum late in the third quarter after a four-play drive capped by a Peterson touchdown pulled them to within 19-13. The Packers’ subsequent drive started inauspiciously with an illegal formation penalty on first down. But then Aaron Rodgers and Jones rekindled the chemistry they shared for seven seasons. On the second play of the drive, Jones caught a 4-yard pass. Then, on third-and-6 from the Packers’ 35-yard line, Rodgers led Jones perfectly along the left sideline for a 37-yard reception that Jones bobbled and hung on to while diving. Two plays later, on another third-down play, Jones barely got loose on the right sideline in the end zone and hauled in a Rodgers pass with both feet barely skimming the turf for a touchdown. Green Bay went for a 2-point conversion to try for a 14-point lead and, again, Rodgers and Jones hooked up, this time with Rodgers scrambling left and flipping the ball backhanded to Jones in the end zone.
What a quick and resounding redemption for kicker Mason Crosby. One week after missing badly on a potential game-winning field goal in a loss to Detroit, the veteran kicker made 5 of 5 attempts to keep Minnesota at bay all afternoon. Crosby hit from 42, 47, 40, 42 and 52 yards, and none of them were in doubt. He even drilled the two longest from the right hashmark, traditionally where he tends to have problems. He also helped neutralize Minnesota’s dynamic kickoff returner Cordarrelle Patterson, who entered the game averaging 28.4 yards per return. Crosby’s mixture of kickoffs kept Patterson off-balance and Crosby even drew an unnecessary roughness penalty when Patterson head-butted Crosby following Patterson’s only significant return.
Randall Cobb has had trouble making catches all season, it was just a little worse Sunday. Cobb, the fifth-year wide receiver, made only two catches of the nine times he was targeted. He entered the game catching only 58 percent of his targeted throws this season. That’s unusual considering he caught 74 percent of his targeted throws in his first four seasons. Sunday, Cobb appeared to fail to look the ball into his hands — the first order of business for any receiver — on a couple of drops. That’s an issue of focus.
DID YOU NOTICE?
» Morgan Burnett might have been credited with forcing Peterson’s fourth-quarter fumble, but Ha Ha Clinton-Dix actually was the first to strip loose the ball from Peterson’s grip. Burnett then knocked it from his hands.
» The Vikings entered the game averaging the fewest penalties per game. On Sunday, they committed eight for 110 yards.
» In 16 career games, including playoffs, against the Vikings, Rodgers has completed 326 of 470 passes (69 percent) for 3,976 yards, 34 touchdowns and four interceptions. That’s a quarterback rating of 115.7.
Packers fans had to love when coach Mike McCarthy decided to go for the Vikings’ jugular late in the game. Facing fourth-and-11 at the Minnesota 34-yard line and holding a 27-13 lead with 4 minutes, 19 second left, it would have been the safe thing to punt the ball. But McCarthy called for a 52-yard field goal attempt and Mason Crosby made it to put the game away. You couldn’t have blamed McCarthy for punting, especially on the road, but the mini-gamble paid off.
A big sign that Green Bay’s offense still isn’t in sync, despite an improved performance: The Packers called two first-half timeouts on third-and-long because they couldn’t get the play off in time. They were fortunate that they didn’t need those timeouts at the end of the half.
Bridgewater was a man under siege all afternoon. The Packers entered the game having gone sackless in three straight games but dialed up a game plan that sacked Bridgewater six times and hit him another 10 times. Nobody exemplified the resurgence of the pass rush more than Datone Jones, whose two sacks and key batted pass are the kind of production the Packers envisioned when they made him a first-round pick in 2013.
David Bakhtiari was responsible for three of Green Bay’s four penalties, and would have had a fifth if not for it being negated by offsetting flags. Bakhtiari, who left last week’s game in the fourth quarter with a knee injury and was limited in practice this week, was called for holding, false start and illegal formation penalties. He was lucky that his second-quarter holding penalty was negated when Vikings defensive lineman Linval Joseph was called for roughing Rodgers on the same play.