The Vikings will enter Lambeau Field having won four of their past five games against the Packers. The last time that happened was during the 1992-1994 seasons, Brett Favre’s first years in Green Bay.
So, cornerback Xavier Rhodes and the Vikings’ reigning No. 1 defense should walk onto the field Sunday afternoon with the swagger befitting two-time NFC North champions in the past three years, right?
“No, we don’t think that,” Rhodes said Wednesday, as relaxed as he’ll be this week sitting in the players’ lounge inside TCO Performance Center. “These guys are still a tough opponent — very tough. I mean, I’m going to keep bringing it up. Did you see what he did Sunday night? C’mon now.”
“He” is Aaron Rodgers. And what Rodgers did was throw three fourth-quarter touchdown passes to erase a 17-point deficit and lead the Packers’ 24-23 comeback victory over the Bears on Sunday.
Further baffling Rhodes were Rodgers’ throws while on a sprained left knee, which limited his ability to step through deeper passes.
“Fact [is] he can’t move, and he’s still accurate on the throws,” Rhodes said. “He’s throwing basically on one foot. The go-ball he threw to Geronimo [Allison] in the back of the end zone … it was a dime — a perfect pass.”
Then Rhodes watched the 12-yard touchdown pass to Davante Adams, whom he’ll likely shadow Sunday. Rhodes had only one reaction when Randall Cobb took a short grab for a 75-yard touchdown to put the Packers ahead.
“I mean, come on with these guys,” Rhodes said.
That’s why there was no debate in Rhodes’ mind when he recently ranked Rodgers as the No. 1 player in the NFC North for a Players’ Tribune article. He ranked defensive end Everson Griffen sixth, himself fourth and safety Harrison Smith third. The top two: Rodgers and Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford.
Rhodes compared Rodgers to the bullet-curving assassins in the movie “Wanted” because of his ability to seemingly sling passes around defenders.
“I said all that before that [Bears] game was played,” Rhodes said. “So, yeah, the man is amazing.”
So, too, is the Vikings defense. Since the Vikings’ 4-1 run against the Packers started at the end of the 2015 season, they’ve had the luxury of playing only three full games against Rodgers. The quarterback lasted only four throws last year after linebacker Anthony Barr’s hit broke his collarbone.
The other three matchups, when Rodgers played, contained both dreams and a nightmare for Rhodes.
First came the 2015 division-clinching win at Lambeau. The Packers trailed 20-13 late in the fourth quarter when Rodgers began his march. Rhodes knows it all too well.
“Once they’re behind, they hit a switch and start clicking and it’s just — boom, boom, boom,” Rhodes said. “They’re more precise, more accurate.”
That was the case until fourth-and-13 in the red zone, when Rodgers stepped up to avoid pressure and heaved an end-zone prayer to receiver James Jones. Rhodes came down with his second career interception, this one for the NFC North crown.
“That was probably my best,” Rhodes said.
The nightmare came a year later in a 38-25 loss in Green Bay. By halftime, Rodgers had thrown for 268 yards and three touchdowns and run for another score. It was the first time coach Mike Zimmer wanted Rhodes to shadow a Packers receiver (Jordy Nelson). The players, Rhodes said afterward, didn’t execute that game plan initially, but their issues were much greater than the brief defiance.
“I don’t know, it was just a bad day for us. Really bad,” Rhodes said. “Jordy Nelson was getting open. Aaron Rodgers was doing what he does, finding the open guy. Their offense was clicking. It was a lot of errors in our defense.”
Come Sunday, the Vikings defense is expecting to face its toughest opponent while at the peak of their own powers — even if Rodgers, who didn’t practice Wednesday, isn’t in full health.
“You never know with Aaron,” Rhodes said.