Early on, the Minnesota Vikings got the emotional boost they needed against the NFC North-leading Green Bay Packers on Sunday night, and then Green Bay proceeded to wear down Minnesota and drain any momentum the Vikings received from the opening kickoff return for a touchdown.
In the end it was another surgical performance by Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers against the Vikings defense, with a grinding running game mixed in to send Minnesota to 1-6 on the year with a 44-31 loss.
Here’s how the Vikings graded out in each phase on Sunday night:
Pass offense: D
Yes, Minnesota’s offense didn’t have many chances. Not when Green Bay held the ball for 40 minutes, 54 seconds on Sunday night. But the Vikings didn’t help themselves on offense either. Minnesota couldn’t sustain drives in Christian Ponder’s return to the starting lineup. Ponder looked reluctant to throw the ball and Minnesota was 2 of 8 on third downs. Ponder often tucked the ball and tried to run on Sunday night, either unable to find receivers, not get enough time in the pocket or unwilling to throw the ball. He ran five times, on called pass plays and was sacked three times.
In the end Ponder was 14 of 21 passing for just 145 yards. He didn’t turn the ball over, which was important. Yet, he didn’t capitalize on his second chance to be the starter and couldn’t get the Minnesota offense going at all. He hit seven receivers on his 14 completions. Kyle Rudolph led the team with four catches and 51 yards receiving. His biggest play coming when Ponder hurriedly threw the ball up into coverage and Rudolph used his size and hands to come up with a 17-yard reception.
Run offense: C
With the Vikings unable to sustain drives and keep the ball in their hands, the running game didn’t have as many chances either. Minnesota did averaged 5.8 yards per carry and went over 100 total yards. Yet, there wasn’t much sustained success running the ball either. Adrian Peterson had 13 carries for 60 yards, a 4.6-yard average, which is respectable. And it wasn’t an issue of the game plan getting away from Peterson like it did a week earlier in the loss at New York. Peterson touched the ball on 15 of the 34 plays before Toby Gerhart replaced him late with the game out of reach.
Gerhart had one carry for a 13-yard touchdown. Peterson had a nifty 8-yard touchdown run, bowling over tacklers and reaching for a touchdown at the end of the second half to give Minnesota life. Ponder had five carries for 38 yards after feeling pressure and running on designed pass plays. The numbers look decent for the running game, on a per-play basis, but the Vikings’ offense couldn’t do much to help out a tired and overwhelmed defense either.
Pass defense: F
There’s no other way to say it than, Rodgers did whatever he wanted to on Sunday night. Rodgers didn’t put up big numbers on Sunday. He didn’t need to. He did put the ball seemingly wherever he wanted to, such as on the two touchdowns to Jordy Nelson. The first was an 11-yarder which Minnesota cornerback Josh Robinson seemed to be in good position, but Rodgers placed the ball perfectly to Nelson with Robinson’s back to Rodgers. Then later, on Nelson’s 76-yard touchdown, Rodgers made a throw to Nelson with linebacker Chad Greenway in coverage with virtually no shot to stop the reception because of the anticipation and throw.
Rodgers was 24 of 29 passing on Sunday night and with at least three passes thrown away with no receivers open. He ended up with 285 yards passing, two touchdowns and no interceptions. With Rodgers leading the way, Green Bay was also 13 of 18 on third downs and 2 of 2 on fourth downs. Minnesota now owns the worst third-down defense in the league, allowing opponents to convert 51 percent of the time. It leads to long drives and the Vikings unable to get off the field. The Packers simply controlled Sunday’s game by not giving Minnesota the ball. Green Bay punter Tim Masthay didn’t attempt a punt in the game.
Run defense: D
While Rodgers was doing whatever he wanted in the passing games, the Packers’ running game was chewing up clock and keeping the ball in Green Bay’s hands. The Packers ran for 4.3 yards per carry as a team, but controlled the game with 42 carries for 182 yards. Rookie running back Eddie Lacy had 29 carries for 94 yards (a 3.2-yard average). With the running game getting positive yardage, Green Bay’s many third-down attempts were usually short yardage.
The running game was the biggest change in the recent series between the Packers and Minnesota. Green Bay has had success passing the ball before, but the new-found running game really gave the Vikings’ little chance to do much offensively Sunday. Backup James Starks added seven carries for 57 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown run in which he broke at least two tackles. Rodgers ran the ball six times for 31 yards after escaping the pocket.
Special teams: C
Minnesota couldn’t have asked for a better start, with Patterson tying the NFL record for longest play. He set a new league record with a 109-yard kickoff return, which tied the longest play in history. San Diego’s Antonio Cromartie returned a short field-goal attempt 109 yards in the Metrodome in 2007. And then Green Bay started to kick away from Patterson. He still finished with five returns for 228 yards.
Marcus Sherels never got the chance to return a punt, but the Packers sure did. Vikings punter Jeff Locker sent a kick deep to Green Bay’s Micah Hyde, who returned the punt 93 yards for a touchdown. Locke finished with four punts for a 46.5-yard gross average. But the big return, in which Minnesota’s defenders couldn’t get in position, led to a 23.3-yard net average.
The past three weeks have been filled with too much of the same for the Vikings. The defense can’t get off the field. The offense can’t sustain drives and the preparation is in question. Minnesota earned its first win in London and then had the bye, and the Vikings have come out flat in all phases in losing three straight games. Last week could be pinned more on the offense. This week could be attributed more to the defense. But Minnesota continues to give up too many big plays, doesn’t get enough of its own and has breakdowns, nearly across the board, that has led to three disappointing and frustrating performances.