Game recap: 5 takeaways from Packers' blowout win over Vikings

Green Bay’s defense set the tone, and the playoff picture has simplified

230101-game-recap-2560
Green Bay Packers safety Darnell Savage celebrates a 75-yard interception return for a touchdown with a "Lambeau Leap" during the Packers' 41-17 victory over the Vikings on Sunday, Jan. 1, 2023.

GREEN BAY – The Packers took care of business with a convincing 41-17 victory over the Vikings on Sunday at Lambeau Field.

Here are five takeaways from the big triumph:

1. The Packers' playoff picture is as simple as it gets.

Beat the Lions next week and Green Bay is in as the NFC's No. 7 seed. That's it.

The Packers gained control of their fate when Washington lost to Cleveland earlier Sunday, so when the game with the Vikings kicked off, Green Bay knew it needed two wins to make the playoffs.

It got the first one in dominating fashion to get to 8-8 and stretch the winning streak to four games. Now it needs one more win next week vs. Detroit.

"You talk about a play-in game," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said. "The stakes are going to be high."

2. The defense set an incredible tone early.

The Vikings went three-and-out on their first possession. Then they took over with first-and-goal on the 1-yard line after blocking a punt, but the Packers put together a goal-line stand to force a field goal.

"That's a big-time win right there," LaFleur said. "Our guys showed up ready to play."

So did Keisean Nixon, who was a game-time decision with a groin injury but took the ensuing kickoff 105 yards for a score, and then the defense got back to work.

Another three-and-out, followed by a turnabout on fourth down. After Aaron Rodgers got sacked on fourth-and-1 in Minnesota territory, the Vikings went for it on fourth-and-2 from the Green Bay 37. QB Kirk Cousins' pass for tight end T.J. Hockenson was deflected by cornerback Rasul Douglas into the hands of safety Darnell Savage, who got some blockers in front of him and weaved his way 75 yards for a touchdown.

Suddenly, it was 14-3 less than 10 minutes into the game, and Lambeau was up for grabs.

"We've done absolutely nothing on offense and we're up by two scores," Rodgers said. "A little different feeling, for sure."

3. The takeaways just keep coming now for the Packers' defense.

The pick-six by Savage turned out to be the first of four turnovers generated by Green Bay.

Safety Adrian Amos also got a deflected interception with Minnesota in scoring range, defensive lineman Kenny Clark executed his own strip-sack and recovery in the third quarter, and safety Rudy Ford played centerfield nicely on a deep ball in the fourth quarter.

The Packers scored 28 points off the takeaways, most in a game for Green Bay since 2005, and built a 41-3 lead. The Vikings, who missed two field goals, didn't score after the opening goal-line stand until midway through the fourth quarter.

"I think this is the way they expected to play for much of the season," Rodgers said of the defense. "It hasn't been the way that they've played the entire time, but when you're playing ball in December and January, the most important thing when you're talking playoffs … you want to be playing the right way and you want to be healthy. And if you look at our squad, outside of Rashan Gary, we're pretty healthy and we're playing the right way."

Following months of up-and-down play on defense, the second-half shutout and four takeaways in Miami last week appear to have begun a late-season surge that has energized the entire team.

"Momentum's a crazy thing that you really can't explain, and I do think there's something to that," LaFleur said. "You look at, I want to say over the last four games we've had 12 takeaways and if you do that, you've got a good chance of winning the game."

4. Jaire Alexander shut down Justin Jefferson.

Back in Week 1, the Packers botched several zone coverages and Jefferson torched them for nine catches, 184 yards and two TDs.

In the rematch, Alexander got the assignment the bulk of the time and rendered Jefferson a non-factor, with just one catch on five targets for 15 yards. Cousins finished 18-of-31 for 205 yards with one TD, the three INTs and a 49.2 passer rating.

"I know Jaire chirped a little bit, but he backed it up," LaFleur said, crediting Alexander's physical play at the line of scrimmage for throwing Jefferson off his game.

LaFleur also gave a lot of credit to Savage, who had been benched about a month ago but needed to answer the call last week, and did so as the defense locked down the Dolphins in the second half. He appears to have earned back his regular role in the secondary with another solid outing.

"Some guys won't respond that way and I think that speaks to who he is as a man," LaFleur said of the fourth-year safety. "Just really, really, really happy with how he's responded and I think he's stacked two games back-to-back and played really good football."

See scenes from the New Year's Day matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field on Jan. 1, 2023.

5. The offense wasn't overly dynamic but was plenty efficient.

Running back Aaron Jones, still battling through at less than 100%, churned out 111 yards on the ground on just 14 carries to go over 1,000 rushing yards on the season. Backfield partner AJ Dillon posted a rushing TD for the fifth straight game. Tight end Robert Tonyan caught his second TD pass of the season, a 21-yarder shortly before halftime for a 24-3 lead. Receiver Allen Lazard had five receptions for the third time in the four-game winning streak.

Combine that with David Bakhtiari returning to his customary left tackle spot after missing three games due to an appendectomy, rookie Zach Tom filling in at right tackle when Yosh Nijman exited for the second straight week, and kicker Mason Crosby adding three points at the first-half buzzer with a 56-yard field goal that bounced off the crossbar and over – and contributions were found up and down the roster.

"This is probably the first game all season we've played complementary football in all three phases," Rodgers said. "The way our defense played, forcing turnovers. Offensively, not a huge game stat wise but we did a good job holding onto the football and then running the ball effectively. And then Keisean, what can you say?"

Added LaFleur: "We talked about playing a complete game in all three phases and I thought that's what happened tonight. Every phase definitely made an impact."

230101-vikings-game-center-2560

Packers-Vikings Game Center

Advertising