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Game notes: Justin Jefferson's big day paves way for Vikings' offense

Zach Tom looks the part in relief appearance at left guard

Green Bay Packers LB Preston Smith and DL Jarran Reed tackle Minnesota Vikings RB Alexander Mattison in Sunday's 23-7 loss to the Vikings.
Green Bay Packers LB Preston Smith and DL Jarran Reed tackle Minnesota Vikings RB Alexander Mattison in Sunday's 23-7 loss to the Vikings.

MINNEAPOLIS – The Packers went into Sunday's regular-season opener against the Minnesota Vikings knowing full well how critical it was to contain Justin Jefferson.

As budding superstar receivers often do, Jefferson still managed to break open the game with six first-half catches for 156 yards and two touchdowns that helped catapult the Vikings to a 23-7 win over Green Bay in front of 66,959 at U.S. Bank Stadium.

While Jefferson found the end zone twice in the first half, it was perhaps his 64-yard reception at the start of the second quarter that changed the tide of the game the most.

Minnesota had just gotten the ball back after the Packers turned it over on downs at the Vikings' 1-yard line. Dalvin Cook got Minnesota off its own goal line with three carries for 22 yards before quarterback Kirk Cousins hit Jefferson on a deep ball that the third-year receiver ran down to the Packers' 13-yard line.

Green Bay held Minnesota to a 28-yard Greg Joseph field goal but the eight-play, 89-yard drive gave the Vikings a two-score lead they wouldn't look back from.

The Packers fared better against Jefferson in the second half. He would catch only three passes for 28 yards in the final 30 minutes, but the damage already was done.

"He looked like one of the best receivers in the league tonight, the first half especially," said Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander. "We knew the game plan coming into the game, and I think we executed it much better in the second half than in the first half."

Green Bay had its moments, defensively. Rashan Gary sacked Cousins on Minnesota's second offensive possession, and the Packers limited the Vikings to just six second-half points.

But a myriad of explosive plays hurt the Packers' chances. Jefferson alone had five catches of 20 or more yards, while Adam Thielen (22-yard catch) and Dalvin Cook (16-yard run) each made plays in the fourth quarter to seal the win.

"We had some good drives and then we get in certain situations and give up big plays," defensive lineman Kenny Clark said. "You can't let teams get the momentum. You let a good quarterback, an offense with great weapons, get momentum, it's hard to stop. Starting off games, we can't allow that to happen. We can't give up big plays."

The Packers recorded eight hits on Cousins, but Gary's early sack was the only time Green Bay got him to the ground. Cousins finished with a 118.9 passer rating off 23-of-32 passing for 277 yards and two touchdowns.

Cook and running back Alexander Mattison were efficient, racking up 126 yards on 28 carries despite not having a gain longer than 16 yards.

Asked afterwards about his level of concern, Alexander said it was "very low" with a knowing smile. The Packers remain confident they can turn things around once they get back to Lambeau Field for next week's home opener against Chicago.

"It's just like a fight, you get hit in the mouth, you're either going to back down or you're going to come out swinging," Alexander said. "I'm not backing down from nothing, … and I expect the defense and the team to do the same thing."

See scenes from the Sunday matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sept. 11, 2022.

Tom's time: Rookie fourth-round pick Zach Tom was pressed into action in the third quarter after starting left guard Jon Runyan exited with a concussion.

By all accounts, Tom played well in his regular-season debut. On the Packers' seven-play, 75-yard scoring drive, the 6-foot-4, 304-pound offensive lineman helped open several holes for running backs Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon.

"I think he did a good job for the most part," left tackle Yosh Nijman said. "We're just going to see what we can fix going into this upcoming week and move forward from there."

The Packers already were playing without starting tackles David Bakhtiari (knee) and Elgton Jenkins (knee). Nijman started in place of Bakhtiari while Royce Newman started at right tackle.

In addition to Runyan, linebacker Krys Barnes was carted off with an ankle injury. Linebacker Quay Walker (shoulder) and cornerback Keisean Nixon (shoulder) also left the game.

Ten get involved: Aaron Rodgers and Jordan Love completed passes to 10 different receivers on Sunday, with rookies Romeo Doubs (four catches for 37 yards) and Christian Watson (two catches for 34 yards) recording their first NFL receptions.

"We're just looking forward," receiver Christian Watson said. "We know what the standard is and the things we're trying to achieve. We're going to continue to chase those goals and do what we need to do to do so."

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