GREEN BAY, WIS. – The game clock ticked down to 1 minute left in the second quarter when there was a feeling the Vikings might actually have a chance to upset the Packers at Lambeau Field and extend their slim playoff hopes into Saturday evening.
Thirty-six seconds later, that feeling disappeared along with the 2016 season.
That’s how long it took Packers linebacker Clay Matthews to sprint past left tackle T.J. Clemmings, sack Sam Bradford, strip him of the ball for Mike Daniels to recover it and hand Aaron Rodgers a five-play, 54-yard touchdown drive that took only 30 seconds.
“We’ve done things like that all season since we started losing,” running back Matt Asiata said. “Our offense was playing well and had the momentum. But you can’t do anything when you turn the ball over.”
The touchdown gave the Packers a 28-13 lead on their way to a fifth straight victory, a 38-25 rout of a tired Vikings team that fell to 7-8. Rodgers trotted into halftime with a 157.0 passer rating that actually had dropped from a perfect 158.3 mark in the opening quarter.
“He did everything he wanted to do against us,” cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. “At one point, I looked up and he had only missed two passes. And both of them were dropped balls.”
It didn’t help matters — or public perception for that matter — that coach Mike Zimmer revealed after the game that his defensive backs went rogue and disobeyed his orders in the first half to have Xavier Rhodes shadow Jordy Nelson. Rodgers went 19-for-22 for 268 yards, three touchdowns and no turnovers while Nelson caught seven balls for 145 yards and two scores before the break.
But the Vikings still had momentum with a minute left in the half. They had closed to within 21-13 on a 71-yard touchdown pass to Adam Thielen. Then, finally, the defense showed Rodgers some resistance with back-to-back sacks of 9 yards by Danielle Hunter and 10 yards by Eric Kendricks on third down. The Packers punted and the Vikings came right back at them with a 9-yard run by Matt Asiata, a 2-yard run by Asiata and 9-yard pass to Asiata. They face another favorable down and distance — second-and-1 from the Packers 41-yard line.
It was the perfect situation to take a shot deep. And that’s exactly what interim offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur called.
“We had a little bit of a double move on to Kyle [Rudolph] over there on the right side,” Bradford said. “We were looking to take a shot.”
Unfortunately for the Vikings, they don’t have the offensive line that allows the quarterback time to wait on double moves. Matthews raced almost untouched around Clemmings, who had no help on the play. It happened so fast that Bradford had no idea the blast from Matthews was coming.
“I was waiting on Kyle because it was a deeper, double-move type shot,” Bradford said. “I think we were going to have a pretty good look at it, too.”
Instead, the Packers had the ball at their 46-yard line with 54 seconds left in the half. Rodgers looked downfield and had time to hit Geronimo Allison, an undrafted rookie receiver out of Illinois, for 32 yards.
Two plays later, on second-and-8, Rodgers hit Nelson for 14 yards. After an incompletion, Rodgers showed that his right calf and left hamstring are just fine.
Defensive end Everson Griffen was too far inside on his pass rush, gave up the edge and Rodgers pounced. He did a 360-degree scramble to get around Griffen, made an inside cut to avoid Xavier Rhodes near the goal line and scored from six yards out.
“I thought I was clean, but he seen me at the last minute,” Griffen said. “I got to [rush] to the upfield shoulder and make that play. That’s on me.”
After Rodgers scored, he ran toward the stands, did the Lambeau Leap and, well, that ended the competitive portion of the contest.
“This feels like the best thing we could hope for,” Rodgers said. “We had some adversity [at 4-6], but we stuck together. I’m really proud of the character of the football team.”