The Green Bay Packers defeated their NFC North rival Minnesota Vikings 44-31 in Week 8's Sunday night showdown at Mall of America Field in Minneapolis.
It looked as though the hosts would be in for a reversal in fortune after rookie first-round pick Cordarrelle Patterson took the opening kickoff 109 yards to the house to put Minnesota up 7-0 right away.
Cordarrelle Patterson: 109-yard kickoff for TD, the longest kickoff return TD in NFL history— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 28, 2013
Patterson's talent in the open field was on full display in a magnificent weave through Green Bay's kickoff coverage, which was in position to make a play but to no avail.
However, an efficient game from Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was to be expected against a Vikings defense that entered the evening 29th against the pass, and he delivered.
As part of the start to yet another stellar performance in which he went 24-of-29 for 285 yards and two touchdowns through the air, Rodgers hit receiver Jordy Nelson for an 11-yard touchdown.
That capped off a 14-play, 90-yard scoring drive in direct response to Patterson's opening score, knotting the score at seven.
The divisional clash remained tight after the teams traded field goals in the second quarter, but the Pack threatened to pull away not long before the halftime intermission.
A beautiful pass from Rodgers led to a 76-yard touchdown grab for Nelson.
Jordy Nelson can't be stopped! Nelson ranks 3rd among receivers for Rec TDs with 7.— Numbers Never Lie (@ESPN_Numbers) October 28, 2013
After a stop by the Packers defense, rookie cornerback Micah Hyde neutralized the impact of Patterson's prior special teams score by taking a punt 93 yards to pay dirt. Vikings superstar Adrian Peterson, though, responded with an eight-yard touchdown scamper to cut the lead to 24-17 at the half.
But the outcome wasn't in doubt beyond the third quarter. Green Bay ran 22 plays in that span, while Minnesota managed just four yards on a single three-and-out possession.
The #Packers ran 22 offensive plays in the 3rd quarter. The Vikings ran 3. MN defensive line looks worn out.— Greg Matzek (@gmatzek) October 28, 2013
Impending opponents should be afraid of the Packers' ever-improving rushing attack. While Rodgers contributed to the cause himself in accumulating 31 yards on six carries, first-year bruiser Eddie Lacy continued to flash promise out of the backfield, and James Starks was an adequate, speedier complement.
Lacy scored on a one-yard plunge in the third, while Starks had a 25-yard burst to the end zone to put the game out of reach with 14:23 left.
Peterson's backup, Toby Gerhart, powered his way to a 13-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to 17 points about 10 minutes later, and Christian Ponder added a run in garbage time to make the margin more respectable.
Below is a look at some of the game's top performers with letter grades included, along with a brief look ahead for each team's next game.
After the game coach Mike McCarthy talked about the convincing win:
McCarthy at podium: a big win, all division wins are tough. #GBvsMIN— Green Bay Packers (@packers) October 28, 2013
MM: We got better tonight as a football team. #GBvsMIN— Green Bay Packers (@packers) October 28, 2013
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers
It's frightening to see how surgical Rodgers can be when he isn't a one-man show.
Thanks to the combination of Lacy and Starks supporting him, the signal-caller made even faster work of Minnesota's secondary.
The Packers converted 13-of-18 third-down opportunities, which tells the story of the game: Rodgers was too strong to stop, and he's borderline unstoppable when the running game is clicking.
Rodgers was pleased with the effort of the entire team in his postgame comments:
Rodgers: On the road, it's not the way you want to start, but we answered back. #GBvsMIN— Green Bay Packers (@packers) October 28, 2013
Rodgers: This was a great team win. #GBvsMIN— Green Bay Packers (@packers) October 28, 2013
Rodgers: We scored on all the meaningful possessions. #GBvsMIN— Green Bay Packers (@packers) October 28, 2013
Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings: B+
At least Peterson gained 33 yards on his first five carries—eclipsing the 28 he accumulated last week.
Until the Vikings get a true franchise quarterback, rather than 2011 first-rounder Ponder or any of the other current options, they won't be a consistent contender even with a playmaker like Peterson.
In the opportunities he did have, AP succeeded in gaining 60 yards on 13 carries. The defense simply couldn't get off the field, and Ponder isn't dynamic enough for Peterson's potential to be maximized.
Packers Backfield: A
This theme can't be emphasized enough, as Lacy ran hard for 94 yards on 29 attempts, and Starks had seven carries for 57.
Lacy back in for this series. Packers look like they have two legitimate running backs if Starks can stay healthy. That's a big plus.— Rob Demovsky (@RobDemovsky) October 28, 2013
Credit Green Bay's offensive line, which has been maligned and criticized in recent seasons for letting Rodgers get hit too much. The big men up front are paving the way, and it especially helps that these backs are producing with star receivers like Randall Cobb and James Jones out.
Chad Greenway, LB, Minnesota Vikings: A-
Who will win the NFC North?
Greenway's sack of Rodgers in the second quarter marked Minnesota's first stop on third down and forced the Packers to kick a field goal after running the previous play from the Vikings' 10.
Things don't get much easier for the 1-6 Vikings, as they travel to Dallas to take on the NFC East-leading Cowboys.
Another division clash looms for Green Bay next Monday night in a tangle with the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field. Improving to 5-2 will help keep up the momentum, as will an extra day to prepare.