Packers Insider: Thumbs up to Matthews, down to injuries
THE BIG PICTURE
A week ago, it seemed like the sky was the limit for the Packers after their exhilarating road victory over the Cowboys. Now, the season looks to be in ruins. Aaron Rodgers suffered a broken right collarbone on Green Bay’s second drive Sunday against the Vikings and may not return this season. Backup Brett Hundley had his moments and should do better with more practice and playing time, but losing Rodgers on top of all their other injuries likely is too much for the Packers to overcome. At least the Packers’ schedule eases up: Green Bay (4-2) will play three of its next four games at Lambeau Field, with the only road test coming Nov. 12 at Chicago.
This game and the Packers’ season turned on one jarring play: Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr driving Rodgers’ throwing shoulder into the artificial turf of U.S. Bank Stadium while taking the Packers quarterback down on an incomplete pass to tight end Martellus Bennett (who added insult to injury by dropping what would have been a first-down reception). Rodgers was carted off to the locker room and not seen again. The Packers punted and on their next possession, Hundley threw an interception that, two plays later, resulted in a Minnesota touchdown.
Outside linebacker Clay Matthews made the defensive play of the day, scooping up a fumble by Vikings running back Jerick McKinnon at the Green Bay 19 and rumbling 63 yards to the Minnesota 18 to set up the Packers' only touchdown. "I saw the ball bouncing around so I got my hands on it and headed up the sideline," Matthews said. "I'm not sure who caused it or what happened but turnovers are instrumental in putting points on the board."
Rodgers’ injury brought back ugly memories of 2013 when Bears linebacker Shea McClellin broke the quarterback’s left collarbone on a sack. Rodgers missed the next seven games but returned in time for the regular-season finale in Chicago, where the Packers beat the Bears to win the division. It’s not known whether Rodgers can return this season, but until he does, this is Hundley’s team. The third-year backup has been groomed for this role and now it’s time to see if he can produce. Hundley naturally struggled Sunday (18-for-33 for 157 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions and a passer rating of 39.6), but after a week of first-team repetitions should be prepared to perform against the Saints.
Ty Montgomery returned after missing only one game because of broken ribs and shared playing time with rookie running back Aaron Jones, who seemingly enjoyed a coming-out party against the Cowboys (125 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries). The going figured to be more difficult against the Vikings’ run defense, and once Rodgers went out Minnesota could focus even more on throttling Green Bay’s ground game. Jones came back to earth (41 yards on 13 carries) while Montgomery (28 yards on 10 carries) lost an apparent touchdown when a review showed he didn't clearly maintain possession of a Hundley pass.
After missing five games, left tackles David Bakhtiari returned to the lineup, marking the first time this season the Packers had their entire first-team offensive line together on the field. But that happy reunion was short-lived. First, left guard Lane Taylor left with knee and ankle injuries after Hundley fell into him early in the second quarter. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga (concussion) missed the entire second half and Bakhtiari went to the sidelines after aggravating his hamstring injury. By the fourth quarter, the Packers’ line consisted of Justin McCray, Lucas Patrick and Ulrick John along with starting center Corey Linsley and right guard Jahri Evans. Little wonder that the Vikings teed off on Packers passers (four sacks, 13 quarterback hits).
Fresh off his game-winning TD catch in Dallas, Davante Adams drew all the attention from Vikings shut-down cornerback Xavier Rhodes. The absence of Rodgers threw the passing game out of whack, but Adams did shake free around the 5-line yard to turn a Hundley toss into a 14-yard touchdown. He finished with five catches for 54 yards. Jordy Nelson led the way with six receptions for 60 yards (including a nice back-shoulder ball from Hundley for 26 yards). With a week of practice, the receiving corps should be much more in tune with Hundley next Sunday.
The Packers’ secondary got a major break when Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs, who burned the Packers with nine receptions for 182 yards and a TD at Minnesota last season, was ruled out with a groin injury. That was expected to ease the absence of rookie cornerback Kevin King (concussion), corner Davon House (quadriceps) and safety Morgan Burnett (hamstring). But when cornerback Quinten Rollins (ankle) exited early, it became clear Green Bay’s pass defense was in for a long day. Josh Hawkins got the starting nod opposite Damarius Randall outside, and they struggled at key times to contain Vikings receivers Adam Thielen (nine catches for 97 yards) and Laquon Treadwell (three for 51, including a dazzling, one-handed grab over Hawkins for 25 yards). They failed to make the Vikings pay for starting backup quarterback Case Keenum, who game-managed his way to 24 completions in 38 attempts for 239 yards, one TD, one pick and a passer rating of 78.7. There wasn’t much help from the pass rush (no sacks and other four quarterback hits).
BITS AND PIECES
» For the second straight week, Randall had an interception fall right into his waiting arms when linebacker Blake Martinez deflected a Keenum pass. It snapped the Vikings' streak of 184 consecutive pass attempts without an interception dating to last season.
» The Packers fell to 11-4-1 in the last 16 regular-season and postseason games against the Vikings.
» The inactives for the Packers were King, House, Burnett, OLB Ahmad Brooks, DT Montravius Adams, OL Adam Pankey and ILB Joe Thomas.
» Attendance for the game at noisy U.S. Bank Stadium was announced as 66,848.