The Green Bay Packers brought their punter to Minnesota, but they didn’t need Tim Masthay on Sunday night.
That’s right, Masthay did not launch one single punt after warmups. He basically became a well-paid spectator.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever been a part of [something like] that,” Vikings defensive end Jared Allen said.
That singular development summed up how thoroughly outclassed the Vikings were in a 44-31 loss to their border rivals at Mall of America Field.
Christian Ponder’s second chance as starting quarterback didn’t look any better than his first go-round, and the Vikings defense had no answer for Aaron Rodgers’ brilliance as the Packers celebrated their final game at the Metrodome with a laugher.
The Vikings fell to 1-6 and suffered their third consecutive lopsided loss since returning from London. Their offense has scored only four touchdowns (three of those coming in garbage time) during this three-game losing streak, and their defense continues to look historically inept.
How bad was it? The Packers (5-2) scored on all eight possessions before taking a series of kneel-downs to run out the clock.
The statistical comparison was alarming. The Packers doubled the Vikings in time of possession (40:54 to 19:06) and nearly doubled them in total yards (464 to 243). They ran 30 more plays and converted 13 of 18 third-down opportunities and both fourth-down attempts.
“You can’t give these guys that many opportunities,” Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway said. “I don’t think they had one punt. It’s just not good enough.”
The mismatch was highlighted at quarterback. The Vikings play musical chairs at that position. The Packers sit back and watch their maestro orchestrate masterpieces.
Ponder seemed self-assured last week as he welcomed his second chance, vowing to play relaxed and loose. If he wanted a lesson in how a calm, cool quarterback operates, he needed only to look across the field.
Rodgers put on a clinic that was so lethal and precise that it illuminated in neon lights the difference in quarterback play between the two teams.
Nothing seems to faze Rodgers, who was missing two starting wide receivers and a starting tight end. No problem. He kept the Vikings defense on its heels all game with his ability to spread the ball to his receivers and convert one third-down opportunity after another.
Rodgers completed 24 of 29 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns with a 130.6 passer rating.
The Packers also rushed for a season-high 182 yards and converted their first seven third-down opportunities, including four on the opening drive to answer Cordarrelle Patterson’s 109-yard kickoff return to open the game.
The Vikings entered the game ranked 31st in third-down defense and their inability to get off sucked the emotion out of the building.
“We couldn’t find a way to get off the field on third down, and it really came back to haunt us,” coach Leslie Frazier said. “A combination of not being able to get off the field on defense and not being able to sustain drives on offense against a group that can score points, just a disappointing night in that way.”
The Vikings’ inability to handle Rodgers put even more pressure on Ponder, who looked skittish in his first start since Sept. 22. Josh Freeman’s concussion opened the door for Ponder to get another chance, but he hardly seized the moment. Ponder completed 14 of 21 passes for 145 yards with three sacks.
Frazier said Ponder “had some moments where he did some good things,” but he said the coaching staff will discuss Monday which quarterback will start next week at Dallas.
With the scored tied 10-10 in the second quarter, Rodgers showed off his quick release and pinpoint accuracy with a bullet pass to Jordy Nelson that resulted on a 76-yard touchdown.
Lined up in the slot, Nelson found a sliver of daylight near linebacker Chad Greenway, who had him blanketed. Rodgers read the matchup and made a snap decision to get the ball to Nelson, who won a footrace to the end zone.
Despite being severely outplayed, the Vikings trailed only 24-17 at halftime after Adrian Peterson scored on an 8-yard run with four seconds left.
But Rodgers engineered a 15-play, 80-yard drive on the opening possession of the second half. The drive lasted 8 minutes, 10 seconds and concluded with Eddie Lacy’s 1-yard touchdown run.
That essentially ended the game.
“I don’t know what to say,” Allen said. “I’ve never been a part of something like this.”