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Game notes: Jaire Alexander, Packers' defense rise to Vikings' challenge

Green Bay generates four more takeaways; Mason Crosby comes through on 56-yard make

Green Bay Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander covers Minnesota Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson in the Packers' 41-17 victory over the Vikings on Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023.
Green Bay Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander covers Minnesota Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson in the Packers' 41-17 victory over the Vikings on Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023.

GREEN BAY – All week, Jaire Alexander was thinking about his matchup with Justin Jefferson.

Heading into Sunday's rematch with Minnesota, the Packers built a defensive plan centered on their All-Pro cornerback shadowing the Vikings' All-Pro receiver, an attempt to neutralize Jefferson after his nine-catch, 184-yard performance at U.S. Bank Stadium in Week 1.

Alexander was a gnat all afternoon, following Jefferson wherever he lined up and limiting the NFL's leading receiver to just one catch for 15 yards. The Packers' defense took care of the rest in perhaps its most dominant performance of the season that culminated in a 41-17 win over the Vikings.

"Anytime you've got the best on the best, who wouldn't want to wake up to that?" said Alexander, who finished with a pass deflection. "The coaches had a good game plan coming into this game. They knew what would put us in the best position to win, and that happened today."

According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Alexander lined up across from Jefferson 20 times. The budding playmaker was held without a catch in the first half, which was only the second time Jefferson has been shut out through the first two quarters.

The first? His professional debut in the 2020 opener against the Packers.

With Jefferson largely out of the mix, Kirk Cousins and Minnesota's offense struggled. The Vikings' quarterback completed just 18 of 30 passes for 205 yards with a touchdown and season-high three interceptions.

For the second consecutive week, Green Bay's defense finished with four takeaways. In addition to interceptions from safeties Darnell Savage, Adrian Amos and Rudy Ford, defensive tackle Kenny Clark also had a strip-sack of Cousins in the third quarter that closed the door on any possible Minnesota late-game magic.

It's the first time Green Bay has had four or more takeaways in back-to-back games since 2016 (Weeks 14-15). That's also the last time Green Bay registered three-plus INTs in consecutive games. It was the third pick of the season for Ford, while Amos and Savage both recorded their first.

Savage's 75-yard INT-TD return in the first quarter helped get the whole thing started for the Packers, who never looked back after taking the early 14-3 lead. For Savage, who returned to the back end last week in Miami, it was a satisfying to score his first NFL touchdown after overcoming his recent adversity.

"Everything happens for a reason. I feel like life throws you tests," Savage said. "You've got to kind of fight back and bounce back. I felt like I handled it the right way. And I'm being rewarded for it right now. Just keep going, keep pushing and keep working."

The Vikings scored both of their touchdowns in the latter half of the fourth quarter. It was a complete 180 from the Vikings' 23-7 win over Green Bay in the season opener, in which Cousins threw for 277 yards and two touchdowns. This time around, the Packers not only got picks – they got points off the picks.

"It's about longevity. It's a game of chess," Alexander said. "Those guys getting interceptions, that was phenomenal."

Four for four: The entire defense contributed to make the four takeaways happen. Rasul Douglas tipped the pass that led to Savage's pick, while defensive lineman T.J. Slaton got his hand on a Cousins pass that led to the Amos interception in the second quarter.

The Packers scored touchdowns on all four takeaways, including Clark's strip-sack. That preceded a 12-play, 76-yard scoring drive that ate 7 minutes, 12 seconds off the clock and put Green Bay ahead 34-3 after AJ Dillon's 2-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter.

Prior to the Packers pulling their starting inside linebackers and secondary in the fourth quarter, Green Bay's defense had allowed just three points all game. During that sequence, the Packers' defensive front held the Vikings out of the end zone after Minnesota started at the Packers' 1-yard line following a blocked punt.

"That was huge for our defense," Clark said. "We came out, got a great three-and-out and got put in an adverse situation. To see guys step up and play how we play down there, that's huge. We've been good all year in the goal-line in short-yardage situations."

Crosby's long-distance call: Tight end Robert Tonyan felt a little bad after coming up a few yards short on his 19-yard catch in the waning moments of the first half. With no timeouts, Aaron Rodgers rushed to the line of scrimmage and spiked the ball.

It left four seconds on the clock for 38-year-old Mason Crosby to attempt a 56-yard field goal. In what turned out to be his longest made field goal ever at Lambeau Field, Crosby drilled it through the uprights after the ball initially hit the crossbar and bounced in to push the Packers' lead to 27-3 at halftime.

"Mason's field goal was insane," said Tonyan, who had three catches for 52 yards and a TD Sunday. "I didn't immediately get up field (on the catch), so I didn't get as many yards as I wanted. I felt so guilty when Mason lined up and the ball looked short in the air. I put my head down and it hit the crossbar and went in – I was like, 'Oh my God. I can keep my job.'"

The 56-yard make edged Crosby's previous Lambeau best by one yard. He made a 55-yarder against the New York Jets in 2014. It also was the first field goal of 50 or more yards Crosby has hit this season. He's now converted 22 of 25 field goals (88%) on the year.

"I didn't expect that was going to be the moment I was gonna hit a long one here in this game in January," said Crosby with a smile. "But the work that's been put in and the execution of the whole operation and the trust we have there, I was able to load up and go. It's really special to be able to knock one like that through in a game like this and keep our momentum going there right at the end of the half."

Crosby ended up pulling unexpected double duty after practice-squad kicker Ramiz Ahmed sustained a groin injury in pregame warmups. The original plan called for Ahmed to handle kickoffs against the Vikings and dangerous returner Kene Nwangwu.

Amazing feeling: With 14 carries for a hard-earned 111 rushing yards, Aaron Jones eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards for the third time in his career. He needs 32 rushing yards in the Packers' regular-season finale against Detroit to establish a new single-season career high.

"It means a lot. I feel like that's a milestone for a lot of backs," Jones said. "It's definitely a blessing but I want to thank the guys up front, the blocking unit and the coaching staff for trusting me and continue to feed me. One thousand yards is not easy. It's good to accomplish. I'm going to be smiling a little tonight."

Welcome Bakh: David Bakhtiari returned to his post at left tackle against the Vikings, the five-time All-Pro's first start since undergoing an emergency appendectomy on the Friday before Green Bay's Week 13 game in Chicago.

Bakhtiari was part of an offensive line that allowed just one sack and three hits on Rodgers and paved the way for Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon to combine for 152 rushing yards and a TD on 26 carries.

"Come the game, I didn't think or notice it at all," Bakhtiari said. "In my mind, in the plan, all along, that three-week mark was gonna kind of see but come the fourth week, it was more pain tolerance. It wasn't he most comfortable thing, but I didn't care. Come game day, get that adrenaline going, we're gonna go."


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