MINNEAPOLIS - Last Sunday the Packers got back on track with some explosive gains in their win over the Rams, and they continued that trend on Monday night with three big-yardage scoring plays by young players.
After the Packers fell behind 7-0 on Vikings quarterback Brett Favre's 1-yard touchdown pass to tight end Visanthe Shiancoe late in the first quarter, Green Bay's offense responded quickly.
Facing a third-and-5 at the Green Bay 38, quarterback Aaron Rodgers found tight end Jermichael Finley wide open down the right sideline, who made a move to elude safety Tyrell Johnson, and took it all the way for a 62-yard touchdown, the longest touchdown catch by a Packers tight end since Jackie Harris' 66-yarder vs. Denver on Oct. 10, 1993.
"I had a wheel route outside the numbers," Finley said. "(Antoine) Winfield thought that I was going to take it out to a corner route. I kept it high and he crashed down. I broke off the safety and the back-side corner tried to catch me. I pushed off and was able to get into the end zone."
The touchdown catch was part of a big evening for Finley. After showing flashes of his big-play ability at the end of his rookie year last season as well as during the preseason this year, Finley got off to a slow start, catching just five passes for 62 yards in the first three games.
But Finley broke through in a big way on Monday night, finishing with career-highs in receptions (six) and yards (128). In addition to the long touchdown, he also picked up 37 yards on a reception over the middle late in the fourth quarter, giving him the two longest receptions of his career.
The 128 yards were the most by a Green Bay tight end since Harris posted the exact same number of yards on five receptions in the Denver game in 1993, and Finley and Harris are tied for the most yards by a tight end in one game in franchise history since 1966.
After the Vikings took a 14-7 lead in the second quarter on another Favre touchdown pass, Green Bay's went three-and-out on its next possession. But the Packers came up with another big play to even the score, this time from their defense.
Minnesota took over at their own 44 following an 18-yard punt return by Jaymar Johnson. On first down, running back Adrian Peterson was stacked up for a 2-yard loss by defensive end Johnny Jolly and linebacker Brandon Chillar, and linebacker Clay Matthews came in to strip the ball right out of Peterson's hands. He had a clear path to go 42 yards down the right sideline for the touchdown.
"I just made a play on the ball," Matthews said. "Fortunately we had a few guys holding him up and he had that ball loose. I just made a play and ripped it away. I couldn't see myself running to the end zone but it was a big momentum change.
"Hopefully it's just something we can improve, being a ball-hawking defense and getting after it."
Matthews' fumble return for a score was the longest by a Packers rookie in franchise history.
Even though it was the first touchdown of his career for the rookie out of Southern California, Matthews elected not to keep the ball after he scored, instead throwing it deep into the end-zone seats.
"What I didn't know is the fine that will soon come, so don't expect that from me anymore," Matthews said.
The Packers' third and final score of the evening also came by way of the big play from one more young player.
Trailing 30-13 late in the fourth quarter, Rodgers found second-year wide receiver Jordy Nelson on a short pass over the middle, and Nelson took it 33 yards for the score.
The 33-yarder was the longest catch of Nelson's career, eclipsing his 29-yard touchdown pass at Detroit last season in Week 2. Nelson finished the game with three receptions for a career-high 47 yards.