Tarvaris Jackson (Morry Gash/AP)
The Vikings had their chances despite an uninspired first half on offense, a special teams gaffe and a couple of big plays surrendered on defense. In the end, there was just too much rust on a starting unit that hadn’t played in more than two weeks, leading to a 24-19 loss to Packers.
Eventually, the Vikings erased their first-half offensive struggles, but it was Aaron Rodgers making the statement of the relatively inexperienced quarterbacks Monday night in his first start as a professional
The Packers quarterback finished the game completing 18 of 22 passes for 178 yards and one touchdown in efficiently leading the Packers to a 24-19 win over the Vikings in a battle of the young quarterbacks. Minnesota’s Tarvaris Jackson started extremely slow – netting only 6 yards in the first half – before finding a bit of a second-half rhythm to end up completing 16 of 35 passes for 178 yards, one touchdown and one game-ending interception. While Rodgers finished with a 115.5 passer rating, Jackson’s rating ended at 59.0.
Running back Adrian Peterson was able to exact a certain measure of revenge, as he returned to the place that crippled the second half of his 2007 season with a knee injury. The bruising cutback runner had 19 rushes for 103 yards and a touchdown, but it was Minnesota’s run defense that let Ryan Grant get loose for one costly 57-yard run that led to a touchdown and propelled him to a 92-yard game.
For all the mistakes in a penalty-filled game and a sputtering first-half passing offense, the Vikings took a 3-0 lead on their first drive of the game and went into halftime with only a 10-3 deficit, thanks to a blocked field goal by Cedric Griffin to end the half and keep the Vikings within a touchdown of a tie. But by midway through the fourth quarter, Green Bay built a 24-12 lead on a Rodgers sneak that followed Grant’s long run and a punt return for a touchdown.
Even with major mistakes or struggles by all three phases of the Vikings team, they still had a chance at the end when Peterson answered Rogers’ last touchdown with his own rushing touchdown to make it 24-19. Minnesota’s special teams had a missed opportunity on the ensuing onside kick, and Jackson still would get one more chance to win the game with 1:51 to play. He had avoided throwing an interception for the first 59 minutes of play, but his final pass floated on him and Green Bay safety Atari Bigby slammed the door with a game-clinching interception.
It started with the Vikings getting to see what they already knew on the first drive – that Rodgers has more mobility than Favre, as he scrambled for a first down. But the Vikings defense was able to take advantage of a fumbled snap and a holding call to stop the Packers in their tracks.
The Vikings eased into their first drive, with Jackson picking up the initial first down with a 7-yard scramble. Minnesota was able to overcome its own penalty – a holding call on Artis Hicks – with a 9-yard run by Peterson and a 9-yard pass to Garrett Mills, with Taylor picking up the remaining yards to keep the chains moving. However, Aaron Kampman brought an end to that drive with a 10-yard sack on third down.
With a banged up and shuffled offensive line, Green Bay self-destructed on its second drive with four penalties and a forward fumble they recovered that allowed them to pick up their only first down of the drive.
When the Vikings took over, Peterson started it with a thud – literally. He took the opening play of the drive around left end and ran over Al Harris for an 11-yard gain. He took the next carry to the right and slashed his way for a 34-yard gain to the 25-yard line. While Taylor and Peterson continued to move the ball forward, an illegal formation and a poorly thrown incompletion by Jackson forced Ryan Longwell onto the field for a 37-yard field goal.
Rodgers responded in a big way, hitting Greg Jennings in single coverage with a 56-yard bomb down the middle of the field. From the 6-yard line, it took a combination of seven plays and penalties, but the Packers eventually got the touchdown when Rodgers avoided pressure from Allen and E.J. Henderson and zipped a backpedaling bullet to fullback Korey Hall for a 1-yard score and a 7-3 lead with 10:07 left in the second quarter.
The Vikings picked up one first down on their ensuing drive with a pass interference penalty on Al Harris while he was covering Bernard Berrian. Three plays later, Berrian came up one yard short of the sticks on a crossing pattern to force a punt.
The Packers continued with their momentum despite being pinned on their own 13-yard line midway through the second quarter. No matter, as Ryan Grant took a carry up the middle 19 yards. Rodgers scrambled for another first down with an 8-yard run and then hit Donald Driver for 25 yards on the following play. Eventually, the Vikings defense forced Mason Crosby onto the field for a 42-yard field goal and a 10-3 Green Bay lead.
Two Peterson runs netting 9 yards were sandwiched by a downfield incompletion to Berrian on Minnesota’s last offensive effort of the first half, but the Packers offense wasn’t done.
Rodgers hit Jennings for first-down completions of 14 and 17 yards on consecutive passes. Once inside Vikings territory, Rodgers continued the momentum with a 21-yard scramble for another first down. Green Bay decided to settle for a field goal attempt as time expired, but Cedric Griffin blocked the low kick and kept the Vikings within a one-touchdown deficit, trailing 10-3.
If the first half was a lesson in passing futility, the Vikings’ halftime classroom session seemed to take hold. All that was missing in their first drive of the second half was a touchdown. On the initial third down, Jackson scrambled 19 yards for a first down. He followed that with consecutive completions of 24 yards to Berrian and 23 yards to Mills. But, once inside the red zone, the drive stalled and Longwell punched a 27-yard field goal through the uprights to make it 10-6 with 10:52 to play in the third quarter.
The Vikings caught a tremendous break on Green Bay’s first possession of the second half. On the second play of the drive, Rodgers got Antoine Winfield to bite on a pump fake and completed a 68-yard pass play to Driver. However, guard Tony Moll was flagged for being downfield before the pass and the play came back. Three plays later, the Packers were punting.
The Vikings offense went back into a temporary struggle, but their special teams truly let them down when punt returner Will Blackmon broke contain, found some room down the left sideline and then cut across the field for a 76-yard punt return for a touchdown and a 17-6 lead with 6:35 left in the third quarter.
The Vikings responded with a rarity of late – an offensive touchdown at Lambeau Field. Jackson began with completions to Thomas Tapeh and Sidney Rice to move the chains. Their next third-down conversion came when Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila started too early and the Vikings had a fresh set of downs near midfield. They went back to the ground game and Jackson and Peterson converted the next two third downs, but the key play was a fourth-down pass that Jackson lofted to Rice on a crossing route that he turned into a 23-yard touchdown with 14:12 to play to draw Minnesota within five points, 17-12, after the two-point conversion pass was too high for Rice.
The teams traded punts, but the Vikings run defense let them down when Grant sprang a run down the right sideline for 57 yards, setting up Green Bay on the 2. One penalty and one play later, Rodgers took a sneak 1 yard for a 24-12 Packers lead with 6:03 to play.
The Vikings responded an 11-play touchdown drive that picked up the initial first down with a pass interference penalty on Tramon Williams. Jackson scrambled for 17 yards on the next play, and the Vikings were quickly across midfield. Four plays later, Jackson was converting fourth-and-1 with a 3-yard run. When he hit Mills for a 17-yard pass, Minnesota was on the 9-yard line and looking to score quickly. After a defensive holding call, Peterson capped the drive with a 3-yard run up the guy to draw within five points, 24-19, with 2:39 to play.
The Vikings had another opportunity when Ryan Longwell executed a big-hop onside kick, but the ball ended up out of bounds. Their run defense did the job, and Jackson had one last chance to give Brad Childress his first win against the Packers. He got near midfield with two short completions, but when the ball sailed on a pass that appeared to be intended for Visanthe Shiancoe, Atari Bigby made the game-clinching interception.
Despite a performance that showed signs of improvement over their 34-0 blowout against the Packers at Lambeau last year, in five tries, Childress is 0-5 against Mike McCarthy and the Packers, leaving the Vikings to begin a season of hope with an 0-1 record and a short week to prepare for Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.