If his final throw Sunday was Aaron Rodgers' last in Minneapolis while in a Packers uniform, the pass — a 75-yard deep post to Marquez Valdes-Scantling that tied the score late in the fourth quarter, one play after the Vikings had wrested the lead back from Green Bay — encapsulated what's made him so terrifying to the Purple faithful for so long.
"The play was an old play in the offense we've kind of revamped the last, I don't know, six or eight weeks," Rodgers said. "They decided to bring pressure. I kind of looked left first to Davante [Adams], and that kind of held Harrison [Smith] down there on that side. Quez had a one-on-one on the safety. Took a really nice angle. Protection held up. I was able to do my footwork I've been doing for 17 years on that play and retreat back and put the ball in a good spot. Once the ball is in Quez's hands, he's taking it to the house."
The play in the Vikings' eventual 34-31 victory — whether to Valdes-Scantling on Sunday or Adams or Jordy Nelson or Greg Jennings in the past — is a quintessential element of the torment Rodgers has inflicted on the Vikings for so long.
But before him, the most withering weapon in the rivalry belonged to Minnesota: When Randall Cunningham or Daunte Culpepper would uncork a deep ball for Randy Moss, with some hapless Packers cornerback doing all he could to prevent what was coming.
The successor to Moss' throne arrived at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday in a T-shirt bearing the Hall of Famer's likeness. He had already caught passes of 43 and 56 yards, eclipsed 100 receiving yards in the first quarter, drawn a 37-yard pass interference penalty and scored a touchdown by the time he lined up wide at the Packers 24-yard line with the Vikings down 24-23 in the fourth quarter. And when Justin Jefferson pressed cornerback Eric Stokes downfield, artfully sticking his hand into the rookie's chest before contorting his body for a leaping touchdown, he looked more like Moss than perhaps any Vikings receiver has since.
After beating the Packers (8-3) on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium, the Vikings are 5-5 and back in playoff position. They have turned Jefferson loose in two consecutive upset victories, after a season of consternation about why they weren't getting him the ball more. And with Rodgers possibly on his way out of Green Bay after the season, the Vikings are perhaps returning to a phase in their most important rivalry where they have the player everyone fears most.
Jefferson's 169 yards on Sunday came on a day where the Vikings appeared willing from the start to test the Packers' injury-riddled defense deep. His 24-yard touchdown catch with 2:17 left, followed by Dalvin Cook's two-point conversion run, made it so Rodgers' strike to Valdes-Scantling nine seconds later could only tie the score. Jefferson's last catch of the day, a 6-yarder on second-and-5, preceded a 19-yard screen to Cook and a 26-yard Cousins strike that Adam Thielen barely saw coming that set up Greg Joseph's 29-yard game-winning field goal as time expired.
"I think Justin, you know, I heard him say the other day that he lives for games like this," coach Mike Zimmer said. "Saw him this week during the week and talked to him a little bit, and then after the game he said, 'I told you I got you, Coach.' That's the kind of guy you love to have. He's a great competitor, runs great routes. Adam's the same kind of guy, and I think those two kind of feed off each other."
Rodgers' 385 passing yards were the most in his storied career against the Vikings; he led touchdown drives of 74, 75, 94 and 75 yards the last four times he was on the field.
It did not matter. The Vikings had enough firepower to fight back.
"I was telling them I'm not leaving today without getting in the end zone," Jefferson said. "So, glad I got in there twice. I've been telling them to just throw it up to any one of us. We're confident enough to make the catch, make a big play for the team, and I feel like we made a lot of those today."
Cousins threw for 341 yards and three touchdowns, driving the Vikings into position for a field goal to win a game that appeared to be getting away from them.
After Rodgers' touchdown pass to Valdes-Scantling, Cousins tried a first-down corner route to Jefferson. Darnell Savage — who'd had an interception overturned by a roughing the passer call in the first half — undercut the throw for an apparent pick.
But a review showed the ball hit the ground as Savage was coming down, and the Vikings got the ball back for their game-winning drive. Cook might have had a chance to score on a run from the Green Bay 19, but gave himself up at the Packers 7 so the Vikings could run the clock down rather than giving Rodgers another chance.
"I wanted to score so bad, just to end the game, but I knew I couldn't get Aaron Rodgers the football," Cook said. "He's a hell of a player. It's just being aware of the situation to get down."
The Vikings preached aggression again this week after beating the Chargers last Sunday, and Zimmer devised new defensive wrinkles that had players excited for how they could affect Rodgers.
Minnesota started the game with Camryn Bynum as part of a three-safety package with Harrison Smith in the slot, before putting Anthony Barr at middle linebacker on the game's second play. Sheldon Richardson worked at defensive end, pressuring Rodgers on a third down before Mason Crosby's 32-yard field-goal attempt clanked off the left upright in the second quarter.
For much of the first half, Rodgers — who hadn't practiced much in the past two weeks because of COVID-19 and a toe injury — seemed out of sync with his receivers and disrupted by the Vikings' shifting coverage schemes, holding the ball and chasing throws downfield as the pass rush chased him down. Green Bay committed six penalties for 77 yards in the first half, with their linemen called for holding twice and illegal hands to the face once.
As has become a near-weekly occurrence, though, the Vikings gave up a touchdown before halftime, when Rodgers rolled to his left and hit Josiah Deguara for a 25-yard score. Even though the Vikings answered with a 75-yard march to start the second half ending with a 9-yad touchdown toss from Cousins to Jefferson (who'd lined up in the backfield), Rodgers directed a pair of scoring drives to give Green Bay a 24-23 lead, finding a wide-open Davante Adams for the 18-yard go-ahead score midway through the fourth quarter.
The quarterback had tried to signal timeout, but wasn't granted the stoppage since the ball had already been snapped when he put his hands up for the timeout. The confusion might have led the Vikings defense to think the play was over; in any case, Adams was wide open beyond Mackensie Alexander.
"We 'zero' blitzed him, and the receiver faked like he was going to stop and took off again," Zimmer said. "[Rodgers] made a great throw."
The Vikings might be nearly done watching Rodgers make sublime plays against them.
The rivalry's next virtuoso might be theirs.
"I feel like this offense is top in the league," Jefferson said. "With [Cook] running the ball; me, Adam and KJ [Osborn] catching the ball, I mean, we can go a long way."