MINNEAPOLIS—The Packers have reached the bye week in their schedule as the NFL's only undefeated team and holding a two-game lead over their closest pursuer in the NFC North title race. Life is certainly good for the Packers.
It didn't happen, however, without some tense moments in the fourth quarter of their 33-27 win over the Minnesota Vikings in the Metrodome on Sunday. After going out to a 33-17 lead at the end of the third quarter, the Packers found themselves holding on against a furious rally by the Vikings.
"It's never easy coming to the Metrodome. It's never easy playing the Minnesota Vikings," Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "This is a tough place to play. They had a great surge of energy, starting with their opening play. I thought we responded. At the end of the day, our offense stepped up and finished the game."
The Packers defense suffered another 400-yard-plus outing, but it made the key stop on third-and-10 with 2:42 to play. Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier opted to punt, and his team never got the ball back.
"They jumped on us," McCarthy said of the Vikings having taken a 7-0 lead on the strength of a 72-yard pass completion on the first play of the game.
Following a fumbled punt by rookie return man Randall Cobb, the Vikings drove 50 yards in seven plays to take a 14-7 lead, but the Packers offense moved the ball up and down the field in the first half, overcame a critical dropped pass by Cobb in the red zone, and cut the deficit to 17-13 by halftime.
"Big drive to end the half, to get points," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said of a drive that went 50 yards with only 55 seconds left on the clock.
The game's decisive drive, however, was the one with which the Packers started the second half. Two plays after action resumed, Rodgers found wide receiver Greg Jennings all alone for a 79-yard touchdown pass. Jennings was so far behind the Vikings defense that he was able to trot the final 50 yards.
It was part of a 20-point, third-quarter outburst by the Packers, which featured two interceptions by Charles Woodson, that put the Vikings in hard chase mode.
"We're 7-0. We're not going to swing with the rope from one extreme to the other around here. We know we can play better," McCarthy said.
"It means we get a week off to get healthy," Rodgers said. "Then it gets even more difficult in San Diego."
Rodgers took his game to an even higher level of efficiency on Sunday. He had a perfect passer rating at one point in the second half and finished the game at 146.5, having completed 24 of 30 passes for 335 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
It's a win that marked the third time this season the Packers had rallied from an early deficit to win on the road. The Packers won the coin toss and elected to defer their choice, which gave the Vikings the ball and they struck right away with rookie quarterback Christian Ponder, who was making his first pro start.
Ponder did a lot of good things in the game, most notably to have converted on third down nine of 16 times. His two interceptions resulted, however, in a 59.2 passer rating. Nonetheless, he validated his selection in the first round and appears to give the Vikings a franchise quarterback around whom they can build for the future.
"I was very impressed with him," McCarthy said.
Adrian Peterson rushed for 175 yards and a 7.3 yards-per-carry average against the league's No. 5 run-defense, and James Starks took over the game at crunch time for the Packers. He led the Packers in rushing with 75 yards in 13 attempts.
The Packers, again, showed the poise of a Super Bowl champion, refusing to collapse under the pressure of the Vikings' early surge and the noisy crowd.
"There's not a lot of panic on this team," Rodgers said.
Now they'll rest and regenerate themselves for a second-half-of-the-season charge that will ultimately determine their fate. Additional coverage - Oct. 23