The Vikings have had their share of injuries, losing running back Dalvin Cook for the season and missing quarterback Sam Bradford for much of it — and that’s coming off last season, when QB Teddy Bridgewater missed the whole year after suffering a preseason knee injury.
But the Packers appear to have suffered a more serious blow when they likely lost quarterback Aaron Rodgers for the season when he broke his collarbone on a hit by linebacker Anthony Barr in the Vikings’ 23-10 victory at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday. Rodgers was one of four Packers offensive starters to get injured.
Add that to the fact that Detroit is 3-3 following a 52-38 loss to New Orleans, and the Bears are 2-4 and don’t look very competitive, and the Vikings might be in a good position to win the NFC North. Their remaining opponents have a combined record of 28-29.
Defensive end Brian Robison, who recorded a sack and had three tackles, was asked how the game plan changed when Rodgers went out.
“Nothing changes,” he said. “It does not matter if it is Rodgers back there or [backup Brett] Hundley. Our goal was the same, which was stop the run, collapse the pocket and get to the quarterback.”
The final score didn’t tell the whole story of how thoroughly the Vikings dominated the Packers. They had 351 total yards to the Packers’ 227 and outrushed them 112-72.
Quarterback Case Keenum won a battle of the backups, throwing for 239 yards compared to 175 for the Packers, with Hundley completing 18 of 33 passes for 157 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.
If the Vikings had one fault Sunday, it was the offense’s play in the red zone, where they settled for three second-half field goals.
Defense stands out
The Vikings defense continued its dominant start to the season with three interceptions. Safety Harrison Smith made his third pick of the year, cornerback Xavier Rhodes set up the first score of the game with a pick near the end of the first quarter, and cornerback Trae Waynes making a game-clinching interception with 15 seconds remaining.
The defense also pressured the Packers quarterbacks all day, with Smith getting 1½ sacks, Everson Griffen and Robison one each and Linval Joseph adding a half-sack.
“I thought we played well defensively [Sunday],” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “We didn’t give up big plays, we got some turnovers, again we were good on third downs. We played pretty good in the red zone.”
When asked about Smith’s improved play, Zimmer said he is the total package.
“Harrison is a good football player, tough, physical, aggressive, athletic, smart,” he said. “He’s a good football player here.”
Smith was asked if this game was as well as he’s ever played.
“I do not know,” he said. “I gave up a catch on the first play of the game. There is always stuff you can correct. When your number is called, try and make a play. That is the mentality of the whole team. If everybody does their job, we have a good chance of having success.”
Thielen steps up
With Stefon Diggs missing the game because of a groin injury, wide receiver Adam Thielen — who caught 16 passes for 243 yards and two TDs in two games last year against the Packers — had another big day. He grabbed nine receptions for 97 yards.
Thielen said there’s nothing specific about playing Green Bay that brings out the best in him.
“I got a lot of targets and there were definitely some plays left out there that I felt like I could have done better on,” he said.
Backups play well
The Vikings offense not only had Keenum again starting for Bradford, but also had the backup running back tandem of Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray filling in for Cook. On top of that, Jeremiah Sirles started for Nick Easton (calf) at left guard.
Zimmer said both backs had great moments. McKinnon finished with 69 rushing yards on 16 carries, five receptions for 30 yards and two scores, one rushing and one receiving. Murray had 15 carries for 28 yards and one reception for 9 yards. Still, Zimmer wasn’t pleased with another fumble by McKinnon, his third in three games (losing two of them).
“Jerick is a good player. He had some good things,” Zimmer said. “The screen play [a 27-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter] was a great call by [offensive coordinator] Pat [Shumur] down in there. We did a nice job and caught them in a blitz and took it to the house.”
Zimmer also gave praise to Kai Forbath and his special teams units. Forbath made all three of his field-goal attempts, including a 53-yarder in the fourth quarter. Punter Ryan Quigley had three of his four punts land inside the 20-yard line.
“Kai had some good kickoffs [three touchbacks in six kicks], and Quigley … I thought he did a good job,” Zimmer said. “You know, we punted them back in there and gave them long fields most of the day. A good win.
“Any time you can beat a division team, it’s a big win.”
Gophers lack offense
Former Gophers football coach Glen Mason observed the Gophers’ 30-27 loss to Michigan State on Saturday while doing color commentary for the Big Ten Network, and even he couldn’t quite explain how the Gophers got shut down for three quarters and then caught fire to nearly complete a miracle comeback.
“It was really becoming very lopsided [in the third quarter] and then I guess if you’re Mark Dantonio, the Michigan State coach, you’d say, ‘I don’t know what happened to our defense,’ ” Mason said. “But you’ve got to credit Minnesota’s offense. [The Spartans] just couldn’t get stops, couldn’t get off the field and [the Gophers] made a lot of third-down plays to eventually score.”
The Gophers managed only 129 yards through the first three quarters. But quarterback Demry Croft sparked the offense in the fourth quarter, gaining 161 yards on three scoring drives.
“I think Tyler Johnson, the sophomore from Minneapolis North High School, had an unbelievable day,” Mason said of the wide receiver who had eight catches for 106 yards and three TDs. “Mark Williams, another unheralded wide receiver, came about. Demry Croft, the backup quarterback, was suspended for a few weeks and everybody was longing to see him, he came in and made a lot of plays. I’m not the coach, but I would guess we’ll see Demry Croft as the quarterback next week against Illinois.”