MINNEAPOLIS - Mike McCarthy’s third-quarter decision to pass up a short field-goal attempt. Aaron Rodgers’ two turnovers in the last seven minutes.
The Green Bay Packers couldn’t overcome critical mistakes by their coach and quarterback Sunday night and went down to defeat at the hands of the Minnesota Vikings, 17-14, in another pulsating chapter of their Upper Midwest border war.
“We put the ball on the ground four times and lost one of them, and we threw the interception,” said McCarthy. “It was tough sleddin’ tonight. Tough environment. Coming off the game last week (in Jacksonville). That’s the way it is.”
McCarthy now has dropped two games in a row against coach Mike Zimmer’s team after sweeping the first three in their budding rivalry for supremacy in the NFC North Division.
The Vikings improved to 2-0 and sole possession of first place. The Packers, playing their first two games on the road for the first time since 1924, slipped to 1-1.
“It was an even game,” an NFL executive in personnel said afterward, and it basically was. The Vikings barely outgained the Packers, 284-263, and the time of possession was almost identical on a night when defense held the upper hand.
In some ways, the first game played at U.S. Bank Stadium before a crowd of 66,813 was decided at the quarterback position.
Zimmer went with Sam Bradford, acquired in a trade last month to replace injured Teddy Bridgewater, over journeyman Shaun Hill.
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With just two weeks of practice, Bradford completed 22 of 31 passes for 286 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. His passer rating was 121.2. He was little short of magnificent given the circumstances, the heavy pressure from the Packers’ pass rush and the loss of Adrian Peterson in the third quarter.
“He looked poised for having practiced for just two weeks,” the scout said.
On the other hand, Rodgers completed 20 of 36 for 213, one touchdown and one interception. He also fumbled three times. His passer rating of 70.7 marked the 14th straight game in which he has been under 100.
In his five most recent games against Zimmer’s defenses, including a 2013 game in Cincinnati, Rodgers’ ratings were 64.5, 90.6, 65.5, 47.1 and 63.6.
“Part of it is the environment,” the personnel man said. “He played well. He created a lot of opportunities for his team.”
After losing a fumble inside the Vikings’ 45 with 6:53 left, Rodgers had the Packers positioned at their 45 with 1:57 left and three timeouts either to win the game or force overtime.
But on third and 14, Rodgers threw a corner route slightly behind Davante Adams at the first-down marker in front of the Vikings’ bench. When the ball hung, backup cornerback Trae Waynes stepped in front of Adams for the game-clinching interception.
“The corner changed his style of play there,” said the scout. “He broke on the ball better. He had been playing soft.”
In all probability, the Packers would have had 17 points if McCarthy had permitted Mason Crosby to try a field goal from 32 yards with Green Bay trailing, 10-7, in the third quarter. Instead, he went for it on fourth and 2 and James Starks failed to gain.
“We were on a 12-play drive and I thought the advantage was to the offense in that particular situation,” McCarthy said. “We had a solid play called. That’s my decision.”
When the Vikings had the ball in the first quarter, the Packers’ Mike Daniels was a dominant force.
On the second play of the game, Daniels destroyed right guard Brandon Fusco and tackled Peterson for a 2-yard gain. The Vikings had to punt.
On the Vikings’ second series, Daniels bull-rushed through Fusco and sacked Bradford for minus-8. The Vikings had to punt.
On the Vikings’ third series, Daniels beat left guard Alex Boone to stop Peterson for minus-1, then shed left tackle Matt Kalil to halt Peterson for no gain. Again, the Vikings had to punt.
The Vikings’ first snap of the second quarter was a run off left tackle by Peterson in which Letroy Guion defeated a reach block by center Joe Berger and smeared him for minus-4.
This time, however, the Vikings didn’t have to punt.
Offensive coordinator Norv Turner began to open up the offense. Bradford found tight end Kyle Rudolph for 19 on the left side, and then slot receiver Adam Thielen for 12 on an out-breaking route with Damarious Randall in coverage.
Taking a major gamble, Zimmer disdained a field goal and went for it on fourth and 1. It paid off when Stefon Diggs caught a 4-yard pass against Randall.
After two 5-yard penalties set up first and 20 at the Green Bay 24, Peterson gained 7 on a screen pass and Diggs found a window underneath for 9.
The Vikings ran a two-man route on third and 4, with Rudolph running a corner route against man coverage from Morgan Burnett. On a contested catch, Rudolph hung on for an 8-yard touchdown.
Late in the first half, the Vikings finally had a sliver of success on the ground when three carries by Peterson gained 11. On the next play, Turner dialed up a deep pass off play-action in which Diggs beat Randall for 44 on a finger-tip catch deep down the field.
“Our defense played really well,” said McCarthy. “Two weeks in a row we need to get rid of the big plays in the passing game.”
Clearly, the Packers missed Sam Shields (concussion). LaDarius Gunter replaced him at right cornerback.
The drive bogged down when Micah Hyde, in as the dime back, wrestled Randolph down a yard short of the marker on third and 5. Blair Walsh followed with a 46-yard field goal and Minnesota led at halftime, 10-7.
On offense, the Packers were rendered null and almost void by a Vikings’ defense that played without cornerback Xavier Rhodes (knee) and 3-technique Sharrif Floyd (knee). They finished the first half with just 65 yards (46 passing) and 11 minutes, 10 seconds of possession.
Green Bay’s first play from scrimmage was a wild one. Adams caught a 3-yard hitch and fumbled on a strip by linebacker Eric Kendricks. Safety Andrew Sendejo scooped it up and was thinking touchdown, but Randall Cobb grabbed the ball from his arms and the Packers were back starting a series from the 10.
After a three-and-out, Ty Montgomery blocked Jeff Locke’s punt and the Packers covered the 52 yards in five plays to take a 7-0 lead.
On third and 2, Terence Newman was beat deep by Adams, and Newman was penalized 40 yards to the 4. A second-and-goal pass to Jordy Nelson fell incomplete but Newman was penalized for holding Nelson.
On a play fake, Rodgers lobbed 1 yard to Nelson for the TD.
Green Bay’s deepest penetration in its last four possessions of the second quarter was the Minnesota 47.
Part of the problem was punter Jacob Schum. He punted four times in the first half, and just two were effective. His average was 37.3, and he had hang times of 3.78 and 3.66 on two of his boots.
The Packers’ receivers struggled to get open, the Vikings’ pass rush was tenacious and Rodgers didn’t have great accuracy.
Minnesota advanced to the Green Bay 44 early in the third quarter but Clay Matthews beat Kalil for a 7-yard sack to force a punt.
The Packers reeled off as many first downs (five) on their second series of the second half as they had in the entire first half. Two of them came via infractions against Waynes, the second-year man from Kenosha Bradford High School.
Rodgers scrambled for a first down inside the 25 but fumbled on a strip by defensive end Everson Griffen. Hustling downfield, tight end Jared Cook made the recovery at the Vikings 22.
On first down, James Starks lost 2 on a big hit by defensive tackle Tom Johnson and linebacker Chad Greenway. Johnson exited with a head injury but returned a few plays later.
A 10-yard pass to Richard Rodgers set up third and 2, but Rodgers missed Nelson in the left corner against rookie cornerback Mackensie Alexander and, disdaining a tying field-goal try, Starks was stopped half a foot short on fourth down.
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Peterson departed with 4 minutes remaining in the third quarter with an injury to his right knee. He left one play after Diggs ran a 15-yard skinny post against Randall that ruptured into 46. On third and 3, Bradford found Thielen for 5 with Joe Thomas in coverage.
On the next play, Randall grabbed Diggs as he ran a vertical route. His penalty for pass interference was declined when Diggs continued the route and made a strong catch in the middle of the end zone for a 25-yard TD. Daniels shoved down Bradford after he released the ball.
Griffen sacked Rodgers on the first play of the fourth quarter, setting up third and long. Rodgers ran up in the pocket and spotted Nelson, who was looking back for the ball and Waynes wasn’t. The gain was 39.
On third and goal, Rodgers escaped between the hashmarks and ran straight to the end zone untouched for a 10-yard TD.
An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Diggs for coming off the sidelines ruined the Vikings’ next possession and led to a punt.
The Packers picked up three first downs, crossing midfield, before Rodgers fumbled on a sack by defensive end Brian Robison and defensive tackle Shamar Stephen recovered at the Minnesota 44. Robison slipped past Bryan Bulaga on an up-field charge.
BOX SCORE: Vikings 17, Packers 14
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