Since the Vikings thumped a 23-year-old Brett Favre and denied the upstart Packers a playoff berth in the 1992 season finale, the buildings on the corner of Chicago Ave. and S. 4th Street have been the site of more harrowing experiences than two Green Bay MVP quarterbacks would care to count.
Favre won four of his last five games against the Vikings in the Metrodome, breaking Dan Marino’s all-time passing TD record in 2007 but went 6-10 in the building as the Packers QB.
Aaron Rodgers feasted on feeble Vikings defenses during the Metrodome’s final years, and won twice in the Vikings’ two years at TCF Bank Stadium. But his first three trips to U.S. Bank Stadium included three losses — none in which he threw for more than 216 yards — and one broken collarbone.
The Packers left the building to chants of “Go Pack Go” last December, though, after beating the Vikings to claim their first NFC North title since U.S. Bank Stadium’s opening year. And on a surreal Sunday afternoon, in a building where the Vikings had constructed their home-field advantage with the help of sensory overload, Rodgers enjoyed something Favre could have only wished for: near-total serenity in a 43-34 Packers win.
With the stadium closed to spectators, the 36-year-old Rodgers operated his offense in front of only the two teams and just under 500 cardboard cutouts that fans had purchased in the west end zone. He didn’t have to worry about the Vikings’ pass rush, either, with Danielle Hunter on injured reserve for at least three weeks. Rodgers wasn’t sacked, was pressured infrequently and had plenty of time overall to test a remade Vikings secondary that was trying to coalesce without the benefit of a preseason.
“I think we made too many mistakes, obviously,” Zimmer said. “We didn’t cover them very good. I know we gave up some big plays. Probably more upset about the jumping offsides on third downs. We know Rodgers is a hard-count guy. Probably wouldn’t happen if we have fans in the stands, but that’s no excuse. And we let him out of the pocket. We know that when he gets out of the pocket that bad things happen.”
Sunday’s end result doesn’t figure to define a Vikings team that will be a work in progress this season. But for a defense that had battled Rodgers to at least a stalemate more than any NFC North opponent in his career, the first outing set a number of records the group didn’t want.
The Packers held the ball for 41 minutes, 16 seconds, breaking a time-of-possession record against the Vikings they’d initially set in 2013, when they didn’t punt while holding the ball for 40:54 in a Sunday night victory during Leslie Frazier’s final year as coach.
Green Bay hadn’t gained more than 383 yards in a single game against the Vikings; it posted 524 on Sunday, more than any team had gained against a Zimmer-led Vikings team other than the Rams’ 556-yard day in 2018. Rodgers became just the fifth QB to surpass 350 passing yards against a Zimmer-led defense, with 364 and four touchdowns. And Green Bay’s 43 points (with the help of a safety on a Jaire Alexander sack) were the most the Vikings had allowed since Zimmer took over in 2014.
“It’s not what we’re used to here,” safety Harrison Smith said. “It’s not what we’re about here, and we’ve got to do everything we can do move on from this and improve drastically from 43.”
Rodgers spent much of the day looking for Pro Bowl receiver Davante Adams, who caught 14 passes for 156 yards and two scores, but tested the Vikings’ young corners with deep shots to Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who caught four passes for 96 yards.
After Kirk Cousins threw behind Adam Thielen for an interception in the final minute of the first half, Valdes-Scantling got a step on rookie cornerback Cameron Dantzler and hauled in a 45-yard touchdown pass to give Green Bay a 22-7 lead just before halftime.
The interception was just Cousins’ third pass attempt of the day; he connected with Kyle Rudolph, who gave himself up over the middle of the field following a 22-yard completion and drew another 15 yards from a Darnell Savage personal foul penalty. A field goal made it 22-10, but in the third quarter, after Cousins scrambled for a pair of first downs, the Vikings’ drive stalled at the Green Bay 39 when the quarterback overshot Tajae Sharpe on a fourth-and-3 deep ball.
“[Offensive coordinator] Gary [Kubiak] asked if we could take a shot, and I said, ‘Yeah, let’s go for it,’ ” Zimmer said. “I think he had Adam [Thielen] one-on-one on the other side, and [Cousins] went to Tajae.”
The Packers, Cousins said, had a safety shading toward Thielen, who already was on the boundary side of the field.
“I don’t love throwing go balls when a safety’s moving over the top, so that’s why I went to Tajae,” Cousins said.
Rodgers then took advantage of the subdued environment and got the Vikings to jump offside with a hard count for the second time in the game. He used the free play to hit Valdes-Scantling — who’d dropped a deep pass earlier in the drive — for 39 yards, and found Adams two plays later to put the Packers ahead 29-10.
The Vikings hadn’t lost a season opener since their dreadful Monday night performance to open the 2015 season in San Francisco, and as Zimmer pointed out after they game, they won the division that season.
But Sunday’s loss was the Vikings’ fifth in their past seven NFC North games, and they’ll play three of their next four on the road against quarterbacks named Rivers, Watson and Wilson, with their next home game coming Sept. 27 against the Titans (who reached the AFC title game last season).
It’s a daunting prospect for a defense that couldn’t rush Rodgers enough to provide much cover for its young corners Sunday.
“We didn’t make enough plays. Guys got out of position a couple times,” Zimmer said. “We’ll just get back to work; we’ll be all right.”
The Vikings’ playoff hopes will hinge on the coach’s vow coming true quickly.