The Vikings' best cornerback was not in uniform Sunday because of a neck injury. Their second-best cornerback was sitting in jail a few blocks away. And Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers offense were salivating on the opposite sideline.
Not exactly a dream scenario. On a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of difficulty, we'll put it at 146.5, which was Rodgers' final passer rating.
It's tough enough trying to contain Rodgers and Co. at full strength. The Vikings were forced to do so shorthanded without three key players in the secondary.
Antoine Winfield missed his third consecutive game because of a neck injury. Chris Cook remained jailed after being arrested on assault charges early Saturday morning. The Vikings also were without starting safety Jamarca Sanford because of a concussion.
That was a recipe for disaster. Rodgers inflicted his usual damage, but it was more surgical than spectacular -- with the exception of one home run play.
Rodgers shredded the Vikings for three quarters until the defense managed to steady itself in the fourth. But the damage was done, and the Packers were able to milk the clock late to earn a 33-27 victory at Mall of America Field at the Metrodome.
"We had to do a little bit of adjusting," Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. "The guys who had to step up did a good job."
Rodgers orchestrated the Packers offense with such precision early in the game that he looked like he might set a number of NFL passing records. He completed his first 13 passes, threw for 314 yards through three quarters and capitalized on a major blunder by the Vikings secondary to flip momentum to the Packers sideline.
The game took a U-turn in the fourth quarter as the Vikings rallied, which kept Rodgers' final numbers from being too bloated. He completed 24 of 30 passes for 335 yards and three touchdowns, but he expected more, considering the circumstances.
"I kind of thought we might throw it a little bit more actually with Cook and Winfield out and them playing some guys who might not get a ton of playing time," Rodgers said. "I thought we'd maybe throw it a little bit more, but the way that the game was flowing in the first half, with us not getting a lot of possessions, kind of hindered us from not having a ton of passing attempts. But I think we were pretty efficient throwing it."
The Vikings had to adjust on the fly in the secondary. Winfield was listed as doubtful, so they had prepared for his absence. But Cook's arrest gave them 24 hours to alter the game plan.
The Vikings expected to employ a dime package against the Packers' four- and five-wide-receiver sets. Marcus Sherels was set to be that extra defensive back. But with Cook unavailable, the Vikings had to shelve that alignment because Sherels was thrust into the nickel back role with Asher Allen filling Cook's spot in the starting lineup.
"Any time you lose your starting corner on a Saturday before a game, it's going to be a scramble to get things right," linebacker E.J. Henderson said. "But next man up. I thought Marcus Sherels did a great job in there."
The Vikings won't admit it, but it had to be a little unnerving going that deep in the depth chart against that offense. Rodgers is masterful at his craft, maybe the best in the game right now, and he's an equal opportunity thrower when it comes to utilizing his receivers. He keeps plays alive with his feet and has pinpoint accuracy.
"Watching [Rodgers] on film, it's like he's unstoppable," Sherels said.
Especially when he's presented a gift. Rodgers' easiest completion was his most important, a 79-yard touchdown strike to Greg Jennings on the second play of the second half. Safety Husain Abdullah's blown assignment left Jennings wide open and allowed him to jog to the end zone, giving the Packers the lead for good.
"You can't really point fingers because we're a whole," safety Tyrell Johnson said. "When one messes up, all of us mess up."
Even on a day when the whole was smaller than normal.
Chip Scoggins • firstname.lastname@example.org