Game notes: Next men up continue to step up for Packers' offense

Preston Smith’s two sacks lead a banged-up Green Bay pass rush

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Green Bay Packers TE Josiah Deguara catches a 25-yard touchdown pass, the first score of his NFL career, in the second quarter of the Packers' 34-31 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

Already playing without Robert Tonyan for the remainder of the season, the Packers' offense took another hit to its skill positions this past week with injuries to Pro Bowl running back Aaron Jones and do-it-all receiver Allen Lazard.

That meant running back AJ Dillon, tight end Josiah Deguara and receiver Equanimeous St. Brown would need to step up at their respective positions against the Minnesota Vikings.

And all three did.

Dillon paced the Packers' backfield with 97 yards on 17 touches and was reliable in pass protection for quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who was playing through a toe injury.

St. Brown made three of the offense's biggest plays, catching two passes for 43 yards and taking an end-around in the third quarter for 11.

Deguara caught the first touchdown of his career (for 25 yards) when he extended his route to give a scrambling Rodgers a target on third-and-5 with 30 seconds left in the first half.

Afterward, Rodgers said he considered running for the first down but noticed Deguara come free and delivered a bullet to his second-year tight end on the run. It was a big moment for the former third-round pick, who missed most of last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

"It was exciting to get that one, just a scramble drill," Deguara said. "Luckily Aaron was rolling to the left. It's just one of those plays that I was open in the back of the end zone, threw my hand up and he hit me with a great pass."

St. Brown was back in the lineup Sunday after sitting out last week against Seattle with an ankle injury. His first catch against the Vikings went for 17 yards and keyed the scoring drive that culminated in Deguara's touchdown.

In the third quarter, St. Brown's 11-yard end-around set up first-and-goal from the Minnesota 10. Rodgers hit Davante Adams for a touchdown on the next play.

On the next drive, which also ended with an Adams touchdown reception, St. Brown caught a short pass from Rodgers and took it 26 yards on first-and-10 from the Green Bay 36. It was his longest regular-season catch since a 34-yard reception as a rookie against the New York Jets on Dec. 23, 2018.

"EQ's a heck of a player, man," said receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who was drafted the same year as St. Brown in 2018. "It's good to see him get some opportunities and go out and make those plays. He's an asset for our team. He's been doing really well on special teams all year … so I'm just happy to see him out there and making some plays on offense as well."

With the Packers deep at receiver, St. Brown was among the team's final cuts at the end of August. He returned as a member of the team's practice squad before being signed back to the 53-man roster last month.

"I'm really proud of EQ," Rodgers said. "I got ahold of him and had a nice conversation with him at the end of training camp when he was released. I just felt like there was gonna be an opportunity for him at some point during the season. But today, what he did, especially on those two catches, the end-around, that was pretty awesome."

Digging deep: With Rashan Gary out with an elbow injury, Preston Smith responded with one of his best games in a Packers uniform.

The seventh-year linebacker was responsible for both of Green Bay's sacks of Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins and three of the Packers' five quarterback hits, along with six tackles and a forced fumble.

Gary's absence led to former seventh-round pick Jonathan Garvin getting his first NFL start, while Oren Burks and Tipa Galeai rotated in behind them.

"It could have been better," said Smith, when asked about the pass rush. "We didn't win, so of course there's a lot of things we can fix to improve for our upcoming game against the Rams. They played well tonight, protecting Kirk, and we had to do a whole lot better and not let him be comfortable in the pocket and make those throws."

The Green Bay Packers faced the Minnesota Vikings in a Week 11 matchup on Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021.

Containing Cook: While Cousins had a good day through the air, the Packers' defensive front contained Dalvin Cook to just 86 yards on 22 carries and limited Minnesota to just 3.1 yards per rushing attempt.

"We knew it would be run-heavy," said defensive tackle Tyler Lancaster, who had two tackles for loss. "They have a good front and running back to run the ball. I was in a lot more this week and was able to capitalize on some of those. Still, we gotta get off the field."

Too many penalties: The Packers entered as one of the league leaders in fewest penalties but were flagged eight times for 92 yards on Sunday, including five procedural penalties on the offense that resulted in several first-and-20 situations.

"It's hard to win in this league and it's hard to score points when you're behind the sticks," LaFleur said. "We knew it was going to be important to be in the third-and-manageable situations or stay out of third down all in all and we got backed up too many times."

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