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Game Review: Not Pretty, But Victorious In Opener

To a man, the Packers would admit it wasn’t their cleanest or most impressive performance. But it was a victorious one, and to have Monday night’s 24-19 season-opening win come against NFC North rival Minnesota, the team many picked to stop Green Bay from repeating as division champions, made it plenty satisfying, flaws and all. - More Packers-Vikings Game Center


QB Aaron Rodgers spikes the ball in the end zone following his 1-yard sneak for a TD in the fourth quarter on Monday night.

To a man, the Green Bay Packers would admit it wasn't their cleanest or most impressive performance. So would the regular-season record 71,004 in attendance at Lambeau Field.

But it was a victorious one, and to have Monday night's 24-19 season-opening win come against NFC North rival Minnesota, the team many picked to stop the Packers from repeating as division champions, made it plenty satisfying, flaws and all.

"It's one little mission of many to come that we accomplished tonight," linebacker A.J. Hawk said.

It was accomplished despite 118 yards in penalties, two apparent scores negated, and a total of nine third- and fourth-down conversions by the opponents. But all that was overcome with remarkably poised and efficient quarterback play from first-time starter Aaron Rodgers, a big play on special teams, and just enough defense to hold off a Vikings' comeback.

Atari Bigby's interception of Tarvaris Jackson with 54 seconds left thwarted Minnesota's final drive and made a winner of Rodgers. In his first NFL start, the fourth-year pro was 18-of-22 for 178 yards and a touchdown, for a 115.5 passer rating. He also rushed for the Packers' final touchdown in the fourth quarter.

But his biggest plays came early in the game, when he hit Greg Jennings deep over the middle for a 56-yard gain to the Minnesota 6 and then followed that up with a difficult throw to Korey Hall for a touchdown. It put the Packers up 7-3, and they never trailed again.

"It is good to get the first one under your belt and move forward now," Rodgers said. "This game was talked about a bunch this week. It was a huge game for us. That's what it was made out to be and I feel like it was. A lot of guys took, I think, some of the stuff that was said personally and really wanted to make a statement tonight. And although we didn't play as well as we wanted to on offense, I felt like we beat a very good football team tonight and we're excited about being 1-0."

The contest was tight throughout, with some of the back-and-forth expected in a rivalry game. With the Packers leading 10-6 in the third quarter, special teams came through with a game-changer, as Will Blackmon fielded Chris Kluwe's low punt, started up the left sideline, cut all the way back to the right and raced 76 yards for a touchdown.

The Vikings countered with a 15-play, 79-yard drive that consumed nearly 7 1/2 minutes. It featured four straight third-down conversions (one by defensive penalty) prior to Jackson's 23-yard TD pass to Sidney Rice on fourth-and-1. Jackson's 2-point pass was incomplete, but Minnesota was back within 17-12.

Then Ryan Grant, he of the strained hamstring and no preseason action, burst through the left side of the line for a 57-yard run to the Minnesota 2, setting up Rodgers' QB sneak for a 24-12 advantage.

Grant (12 carries, 92 yards) and the Vikings' Adrian Peterson (19 carries, 103 yards) each had one long run but were otherwise held in check. In fact Peterson, whose 34-yard scamper late in the first quarter led to the game's and Minnesota's first points, had just 42 yards rushing over the final three periods.

"He's a tough back to get down," linebacker Nick Barnett said. "We made some sure tackles and were able to maintain the lead."

The Packers felt that lead should have been much larger. A blocked field goal at the end of the first half kept it a one-score game at intermission, and then the Packers had a 68-yard touchdown pass to Donald Driver in the third quarter called back when guard Tony Moll was penalized for ineligible man downfield.

The missed opportunities helped allow Minnesota to make one final push in the closing minutes, with an 80-yard drive for a touchdown to get back within one score. Helped by Jackson's scrambling (9 rushes, 65 yards on the night), the Vikings scored on Peterson's 3-yard run to make it 24-19 with 2:39 left.

{sportsad300}The Vikings had just one timeout left and couldn't recover the onside kick, but the Packers not only were unable to run out the clock but ended up consuming very little time. The team's 12th penalty on a flag-filled night (the Vikings had nine infractions) was a holding call on second down against Mark Tauscher that stopped the clock, forcing the Packers to punt just after the two-minute warning instead of with roughly 1:20 to go.

But the defense, despite spending nearly 20 minutes in the second half on the field, didn't fold. In the end, it held Jackson to just 16-of-35 passing for 178 yards and a 59.0 rating.

"We faced some adversity," Hawk said. "We gave up some big third downs we didn't want to, but I think as a defense, the type of character we have, we wanted to be back on that field with two minutes left in the game. We wanted to right some of our wrongs we had earlier in the night."

That they did, getting the interception from Bigby in Green Bay territory on a deep out intended for Rice. The Packers felt it shouldn't have come down to that, but they did what was required.

"Particularly in the second half, we were on the field way too long," defensive end Aaron Kampman said. "A couple times we could have gotten off the field, and we could have really put that game away, not made it close at the end. That's something we can learn from. But having said that, a win's a win."

And a close one, against a team touted as a playoff contender, with special teams making a big impact. There were many elements reminiscent of the 2007 season-opening win over the Eagles, but whether 2008 follows a similar path, only time will tell.

"This is kind of what happened last year," Kampman said. "We got a big win against Philly last year. This is a big win against a rival opponent, a team that has been talked up all offseason, and to come out here and perform to get a victory just really continues to help us have an upward climb of real confidence."

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