Well that was fun. Gotta say, it might have been the most enjoyable day of 2020 so far.
Who am I kidding? It was, by far, the most enjoyable day of 2020. Granted, it doesn’t have a lot of competition. That was the Aaron Rodgers we hoped we’d see in 2020. A driven, competitive, not ready to give up his job, in-complete-control of everything version of Rodgers. Granted, the Vikings defense appears to be a shell of its former self, especially without Danielle Hunter. But to see a Packer team rack up more than 500 yards against a proud Mike Zimmer defense? As the Common Man would say, “Delicious.”
It was a little shaky early, when the first three trips to the red zone resulted in just six points, including a stout goal line stand by the Purple (aided by some strange play calls). But when Jaire Alexander came a blitzing and sacked Kirk Cousins for a safety, you could feel the momentum change. And when the Pack scored twice in the final minute, with a Cousins pick in-between, they suddenly had a 22-7 lead and were in command.
Allowing a field goal try in the closing seconds of the half was a disappointment, as was the sight of Kenny Clark walking gingerly to the locker room. It quelled what should have been a good dose of optimism after thirty minutes. We later learned that Clark is dealing with a groin injury and we’ll hold our breaths to hear about the severity. Make no mistake: he’s as important to the Packers’ defense as Hunter is to the Vikings’. For me, I hope the worst case scenario is he is good to go following the week five bye, when the schedule toughens up.
The other injuries caused the offensive line to shuffle throughout the afternoon. I was very surprised to see Elgton Jenkins get the start at right tackle and I found myself glued to his performance, to see if he might be the right tackle of the future. What we saw was encouraging (albeit against a subpar Purple defensive line); unfortunately he didn’t get to stay there for long. Left guard Lucas Patrick exited with a shoulder injury in the second quarter, moving Jenkins back inside and putting Rick Wagner in by default (he seemed to hold his own). Just hated to see Lane Taylor get carted off with a knee injury that looked serious. Rookie Jon Runyan stepped in–the Pack was down to six linemen the rest of the day.
Yet despite all of that shuffling, the Vikings never got close to Rodgers–just two QB hits and no sacks on 44 drop backs. Rodgers was in maestro mode and Davante Adams toyed with whatever cornerback Zimmer put on him. Adams once again showed that he should be mentioned along with the very best receivers in the game. His 14 catches tied a Packer record held by the great Don Hutson, which makes me wish I could have watched Hutson in his prime. I mean, nobody was catching 14 balls a game in those days.
I thought LaFleur called a great game (other than the aforementioned red zone calls early). He used all of his backs, keeping Aaron Jones fresh and found a way to get Tyler Ervin involved as well. Rookie Josiah Deguara was a big addition in the blocking game–he may end up being the most impactful rookie in 2020. Lost in Rodgers’ big day was the fact that the Pack churned out 158 net yards on the ground.
Defensively, it’s hard to know what to think. After allowing a touchdown on the first drive, they settled down. But they were only on the field for 18 minutes and change. It was the lowest time of possession for the offense in Vikings history. I think what stood out most to me was the play at inside linebacker. Christian Kirksey (12 tackles, six solo) was all over the place making plays, as was Krys Barnes, the undrafted rookie out of UCLA (and high school teammate of Jordan Love), who was a surprise starter and chipped in seven tackles, including two tackles for loss.
And what a day for Alexander, who became just the fifth player in the last 20 years to record a sack, a pick and a safety in the same game. He got burned by Adam Thielen once or twice, but the kid is a playmaker.
It’s just one game, and the Vikings will get better as the season goes along, but what a great season-opening performance by Rodgers and the Pack, who delivered an early message to the rest of the NFC.
Keep telling the Pack that they were the worst 13 win team in NFL history. Keep telling the Pack that they didn’t get Rodgers any weapons (the WRs caught 22 passes for 315 yards and four touchdowns). Keep telling the Pack that they’re the most likely NFC team not to return to the playoffs.
Aaron Rodgers is listening.