GREEN BAY, WIS. – Mike Zimmer wanted Xavier Rhodes to shadow Packers receiver Jordy Nelson throughout Saturday’s 38-25 loss, but his defensive backs decided against that.
The Vikings defensive backs decided they would stay on their sides instead. Rhodes did not leave the right side to follow Nelson, who had seven catches for 145 yards and two touchdowns before Vikings coaches put their game plan back on track after halftime.
Rhodes said Vikings defensive backs made their own plan during the week of practice to not have him, their top cornerback, shadow Nelson for the first time in a Vikings-Packers game under Zimmer.
Almost all of the damage came in the first half, when Rhodes wasn’t shadowing Nelson. Rhodes, who did surrender some of the first-half yardage, tracked Nelson in the second half and held him to two grabs for nine yards.
“That’s what he was supposed to do the whole game,” Zimmer said. “Someone decided they wouldn’t do that.”
Zimmer said he noticed his game plan wasn’t being executed when cornerback Terence Newman approached him about the change.
“In the first half, when Terence Newman came over and said something to me like, ‘I can cover this guy, let me have him,’” Zimmer said. “I said, ‘Do what you’re supposed to do.’ ”
Asked about the plan to cover Nelson and what changed, Newman said: “Nothing. I have no idea.”
Rhodes, after initially declining to discuss the players’ strategy, eventually revealed exactly what happened,
“We felt as a team, as players, we came together and we felt like we’d never done that when we played against the Packers. Us as DBs felt like we could handle him. That’s how we felt as DBs that we could stay on our side and cover him. In the beginning, we’d always played against them and played our sides, so that’s what we as DBs went with.”
Nelson finished with 154 receiving yards, which is his most against the Vikings and the fourth-highest total of his nine-year career.
The lone bright spot in the Vikings’ eighth loss of the season Saturday came by the hands of receiver Adam Thielen.
Thielen shattered his career highs in every category with 12 catches, 202 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Thielen fell just 9 yards short of setting the Vikings’ single-game record at 210 receiving yards.
“Those stats and numbers don’t mean anything, especially when you lose,” Thielen said.
Without guard Brandon Fusco (concussion) for a second game, Joe Berger remained at right guard and second-year center Nick Easton got his fourth career start.
Easton botched a snap in the second quarter, one of the Vikings’ two turnovers that led to 14 points for the Packers in a 13-point loss.
“If I had to take a best guess,” Easton said. “There was a little sun on the field, dried the dew — there’s a lot of friction between the ball and the ground, didn’t get up.”
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was almost forced from the game in the third quarter when Danielle Hunter and Eric Kendricks sandwiched him on a sack. The Vikings landed four sacks on Rodgers, who returned from a neck injury to throw his fourth touchdown pass before leaving on his own.
“I got a stinger,” Rodgers said. “I hadn’t in all my years of football.”
Safety Harrison Smith returned to the lineup Saturday after a sprained ankle had sidelined him since Dec. 1. But Rodgers still became the first 300-yard passer against the Vikings defense this season with 347 through the air.
“They were making plays and we didn’t cover good enough,” Smith said.
NFL official Sarah Thomas briefly exited in the fourth quarter after the line judge was knocked to the turf after a tackle by Packers safety Morgan Burnett on Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph.
Thomas, college football’s and the NFL’s first full-time female official, wasn’t out long. She returned for the game’s final minutes.