MINNEAPOLIS – The flashes were there Sunday afternoon at U.S. Bank Stadium, but so too was the inconsistency.
The Packers' offense showed glimpses of what it could be capable of this season behind its potent one-two backfield punch of Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon, but missed opportunities and turnovers haunted Green Bay during a 23-7 loss to the Minnesota Vikings in Sunday's regular-season opener.
Jones and Dillon combined for 167 total yards on 23 touches, with the two backs propelling the Packers during their seven-play, 75-yard scoring drive in the third quarter.
However, offensive fits and starts put Green Bay in an early hole and were too much to overcome against a Vikings defense with something to prove under newly arrived coordinator Ed Donatell.
Despite Minnesota striking first, Green Bay nearly hit an explosive play on its first offensive snap when receiver Christian Watson beat Patrick Peterson deep, but the ball fell through the rookie second-round pick's grasp.
Four plays later, Green Bay would be forced to punt.
"As soon as I stepped inside and felt him press inside a little bit and he was flat-footed, I knew I had him beat," Watson said. "It's tough obviously. … It's a play I know I can make. I can go forward knowing I've made that play 100 times in the past and I'm going to make it next time it comes my way."
The Packers punted on their next possession, too, following Za'Darius Smith's sack of quarterback Aaron Rodgers on third-and-8. Still, Green Bay got off to a strong start in the second quarter, with Rodgers hitting Robert Tonyan for 23 yards.
The drive showcased Green Bay's offensive ingenuity, whether it was Rodgers' 22-yard pass to Jones in space or Watson gaining nine yards on an end-around. The Packers had two cracks at a touchdown – on a third-down swing pass to Dillon and then a fourth-down draw up the middle – but both times were stopped short of the goal line.
"Obviously, I feel like I could've maybe kept my legs moving a little bit more," Dillon said. "I really haven't been able to see the tablet on the sideline. .... I know the guy was on the backside at the legs. Everybody's gotta do their job with one collective goal (but) definitely upset I didn't get that one. Definitely wanted it back."
Green Bay went into halftime trailing 17-0 after a three-and-out and then a deep ball intended for Randall Cobb was picked off by Harrison Smith with 35 seconds left in the half.
While the second half began with a strip sack and lost fumble, the Packers rallied behind Jones and Dillon during their lone scoring drive. Running behind Zach Tom, who was in at left guard for an injured Jon Runyan, Jones broke a 29-yard run into Minnesota territory for the longest offensive play of the day.
"I ran out there and I was like, 'You just fired up the whole sideline,'" said Dillon. "There's obviously a lot more we can build on but I'm happy with watching him. … I thought he made the most of his opportunities."
Five plays later, Dillon plowed through the Vikings' front for the 2-yard touchdown. In addition to his 45 yards on 10 carries, the third-year running back also finished as the Packers' leading receiver with five receptions for 46 yards.
That's the only trip Green Bay would make into Minnesota's end zone. Rodgers was sacked again on third down, ending the Packers' next series. Trailing 23-7, the Packers would turn over the ball again on downs after Rodgers' pass to Tonyan in the seam fell incomplete on fourth-and-1 in Vikings territory.
See scenes from the Sunday matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sept. 11, 2022.
Green Bay finished 3-of-9 on third downs, 0-for-2 on fourth down and 1-for-3 in the red zone.
The Packers' offense was in a tough spot Sunday. In addition to losing Runyan to a concussion, the Packers also were playing without receiver Allen Lazard (ankle), and starting tackles David Bakhtiari (knee) and Elgton Jenkins (knee).
Green Bay hopes for a turnaround next week when it returns to Lambeau Field to open its home slate against the Chicago Bears.
"Just continue to go back to the drawing board and continue to work on ourselves," said Jones, who led Green Bay with 49 rushing yards on five carries. "And we'll be better for it at the end of it."