Rodgers, Packers top Vikings to stay undefeated
Despite the disparate records, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers found plenty of competition from Christian Ponder in the fearless rookie's first start for the Vikings.
Rodgers was up for the challenge again, and the defending Super Bowl champions still didn't flinch. Rodgers kept Green Bay unbeaten with three touchdowns and 335 yards passing, holding off Minnesota 33-27 on Sunday.
"There's not a lot of panic in this team. We've been down a couple times at halftime. Just a lot of focus," said Rodgers, who completed his first 13 passes and finished 24 for 30 on another near-unstoppable afternoon against a depleted secondary.
"We expect nothing less," said Greg Jennings, who had seven catches for 147 yards. He jogged in for a 79-yard score on the second play of the second half after an egregiously blown coverage, giving the Packers their first lead at 20-17.
Ponder was picked off twice in the third quarter by Charles Woodson, who almost grabbed a couple more interceptions, but he kept the Vikings in it from start to finish after completing a 71-yard pass play on his first snap.
Adrian Peterson helped him out by rushing 24 times for 175 yards and a touchdown for the Vikings (1-6), but James Starks put the game away with two big gains for first downs before the two-minute warning and another one right after. He had 75 yards on 13 carries for the Packers (7-0).
"It's frustrating to come out against the defending champs and be that close and not to come up with the win," Peterson said. "Give credit to those guys. They made plays when they needed to, and we ended up on the wrong side of it."
Mason Crosby had four field goals for the Packers, including a franchise record 58-yarder, one of many delights among some anxious moments for the thousands of Packers fans in attendance who made the trip across the border.
"We're not going to swing from a rope around here as far as extremes, one way or another," coach Mike McCarthy said. "We're very happy being 7-0, stating the obvious, but to a man we know we can play better. That's what's exciting."
This rivalry is still fierce, as evidenced by a couple of early skirmishes.
Vikings defensive end Brian Robison, frustrated by some unwelcome contact from Packers guard T.J. Lang during one second-quarter play, gave Lang a swift kick to the groin area, a caught-on-camera personal foul that drew a penalty and is likely to bring Robison a fine.
Ponder's first foray against the Packers, despite the mistakes, showed flash and promise.
"They could be 0-14, 0-15. It doesn't matter," Jennings said. "When they play in this building, you're going to get their best shot."
Ponder went 13 for 32, but he never looked rattled and finished with 219 yards and two touchdowns. Ponder also ran four times for 31 yards. He found Michael Jenkins for a score with 7:49 left, after a rare three-and-out by the Packers, to cut the lead to six points. He had the ball back with plenty of time to win it before a couple of errant heaves effectively ended the comeback.
Green Bay has quite the grip on the NFL right now, with Rodgers and his rocket right arm leading the way.
"He's putting together an unbelievable year, and he's playing extremely well," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "You have to give him a lot of credit. He's really developed over the last few years into a topflight quarterback."
The Vikings have struggled in the secondary at full strength, and they weren't even close to that. Safety Jamarca Sanford was recovering from a concussion. Antoine Winfield was still on the sideline with a stiff neck, and fellow cornerback Chris Cook - their best player in pass coverage — was not even at the stadium. He was in the county jail, for an alleged domestic assault.
The rest of the Vikings were in the building, but they're just not in Green Bay's league this year. This usually tight rivalry has been this one-sided in decades. The Packers won for the eighth time in 11 meetings, and the common denominator is Rodgers.
He's connecting on roughly seven of every 10 passes, and many of those rare incompletions have been drops by his otherwise-stellar receivers. Rookie Randall Cobb was wide open on a drag route across the middle on third-and-16 at the 20, but the pass from Rodgers glanced off his hands and the Packers settled for three points.
Yes, Jared Allen tacked two sacks on his NFL-leading total to give him 11½, but Rodgers spread the ball around to just about every receiver and made a perfect throw to just about every spot on the field. He went 6 for 6 on his first drive, firing passes to six players during a ho-hum 91-yard march for the tying score.
The only three incompletions he threw in the first half? Two drops and a spike to stop the clock.
To keep this game competitive, the Vikings needed a timely turnover or two, and the rookie Cobb gave them one at the end of the first quarter when he fumbled a fair catch with teammate M.D. Jennings getting in his way. The Vikings recovered at midfield and scored a few minutes later to make it 14-7.
"Coach said in the first quarter, 'They're going to shoot their wad, and we've just got to come out and play our type of ball,' and we did," said tight end Jermichael Finley, who caught a third-quarter touchdown pass. "We're the only team in the league that's got that goose egg behind us. We've just got to stay humble and don't get complacent."