MINNEAPOLIS – Taking a closer look at the Green Bay Packers’ 44-31 victory over the Minnesota Vikings Sunday night at Mall of America Field at the Metrodome, where the Packers will never have to play another game as it’ll be demolished this winter:
Thumbs up: It’s hard to imagine the Packers’ offense running more efficiently than it did Sunday night. The unit’s 72.2 percent conversion rate on third down (13 of 18) was the best single-game percentage in the NFL this season. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was statistically perfect on third down, completing 10 of 10 passes for 182 yards and both his touchdowns, for a perfect passer rating of 158.3. Twice, when they failed to convert on third down, they got it done on fourth down instead. And between Eddie Lacy (29 carries, 94 yards), James Starks (seven carries, 57 yards) and Rodgers, the Packers tied their season-high in rushing yardage.
“I'm very impressed with our football team tonight, obviously,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said afterward. “(We had) a lot of good things on offense. We didn't punt. We were able to get in and out of different personnel groups. We really haven't done a lot of that this year, so we really kind of had to change the style and the management of our game. I can't give Aaron Rodgers and our players enough credit for doing that. It was an adjustment coming into the game and they handled it extremely well. Very productive on offense.”
Thumbs down: The Packers’ rash of injuries may not have derailed the offense or defense, but the impact on special teams was hard to miss on Cordarrelle Patterson’s 109-yard touchdown on the opening kickoff. Patterson took the ball on the edge of the back of the end zone and brought it out, and after Brandon Bostick and Jerron McMillian appeared to have the best opportunities to tackle Patterson around the 10-yard line, it was rookie Micah Hyde who had probably should have gotten Patterson at the 23-yard line. When Hyde missed, Patterson was gone, outrunning Chris Banjo, Sam Barrington and Tim Masthay en route to the end zone and a 7-0 lead.
“It was a bad play by me, I could have made the tackle,” Hyde said. “I could have taken one more step maybe, wrapped up a little bit, but he’s explosive. We were talking about him all week, too. I just tried to make an impact on special teams after that.”
More on that in a moment. After that kickoff, the Packers went to kicker Mason Crosby instead of Masthay on kickoffs, and he never got to punt because the offense was so effective.
“Ah, shoot. Our offense was playing awesome. I don’t mind that at all. I just want to see the team play well and win,” Masthay said. “Mason came in and kicked off great, we covered well, so there’s no sour taste for me.”
Asked if he was pulled off kickoffs because it was in some way his fault, Masthay said special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum wanted to kick directionally thereafter.
“I would have liked for it to be 1 yard deeper, then he couldn’t have brought it (out). But other than that, no, it was fine,” Masthay said. “Slocum likes Mason doing the directional kicking, Mason’s done that well, so I wasn’t surprised when the next kickoff went to Mason.”
Play of the day: While the impact might have been lessened slightly by the defense giving up a touchdown drive just before halftime, Hyde atoned in a big way for his missed tackle on Patterson by returning a punt 93 yards for a touchdown. It tied for the fourth-longest punt return in Packers history, but more importantly, it gave the Packers a 24-10 lead and showed that the rookie cornerback from Iowa is fully qualified for the gig.
McCarthy called it “a huge play in the game, a great momentum-builder for us.”
Of course, Hyde didn’t think what he did was all that impressive.
“(Slocum) drew up a game plan all week and said, ‘If you just hit it, it’ll be open,’” said Hyde, who assumed the job on a part-time basis after Jeremy Ross was cut and before Randall Cobb’s broken leg. “Kudos to our punt return team. Anybody in here could have returned that one. It was a huge hole.”
“OK, other than the linemen maybe,” replied Hyde, whose closest would-be tackler was teammate Sam Barrington on the play. “Honestly, I caught the ball, I got upfield, and the only thing I saw was Sam Barrington almost tackle me. I weaved (around) him, he jumped out of the way and then from there, it was the kicker. I tried to beat him with speed, and fortunately I was able to beat him. It definitely boosted the whole team’s momentum and we definitely fed off it in the second half.”
Player of the game: While there were plenty of deserving candidates, Rodgers’ nominee got very little attention but gets the nod on the QB’s say-so.
“One guy who’s been steady all year long and hasn’t gotten a lot of credit is David Bakhtiari. He’s been solid at left tackle,” Rodgers said of the rookie fourth-round pick from Colorado. “He’s playing against one of the premier guys in the league (as a) pass rusher. I thought he did a nice job.”
That he did. Not only did Vikings pass-rushing defensive end Jared Allen not sack Rodgers Sunday night, Allen didn’t register a single statistic. In the tackles column was a big zero.
“Jared is one of the premier guys in the league and he’s probably a Hall of Famer when he’s done playing. And David did a nice job tonight,” Rodgers continued. “I think he’s playing really well. I’ve said it just about every week: He has not been a story. There hasn’t been any issues over there. He’s done a great job. I think he deserves a lot of credit.”
While Bakhtiari got some intermittent help, it was right tackle Don Barclay who got more help from a chipping running back or a tight end thumping on him.
“David's playing very well,” McCarthy said. “We were obviously very conscious of Jared Allen. I think Jared's having an excellent year, so we were very conscious of how we set the run game and our protections. But David did a heck of a job. I'll tell you, our left side with Josh Sitton, he's having another great year and David is just getting better and better each week. I just can't say enough for a young man to play with the consistency that he's playing with right out of the gate in his rookie season."
Inside the game: Eddie Lacy lists Adrian Peterson as one of his all-time favorite players, and Lacy’s performance while sharing the field with Peterson should have done the Vikings running back proud. Lacy finished with 94 of the Packers’ season-high tying 182 rushing yards, but what was more noteworthy was his number of carries: 29. Last year, when Peterson and the Vikings beat the Packers in the regular-season finale at the Metrodome, Peterson carried a season-high 34 times for 199 yards to finish 8 yards shy of the NFL single-season rushing mark.
That Lacy would get so many carries – with Starks returning to the lineup and carrying seven times for 57 yards – was stunning. It was the highest carry total for an individual Packers running back since Ryan Grant had 31 carries for 105 yards against Indianapolis on Oct. 19, 2008.
Peterson, meanwhile, finished with just 13 carries for the second straight week – despite getting the ball handed to him on each of the Vikings’ first three offensive plays.
“I don’t know, man. I respect AP, I look up to him. He’s a great running back, very talented, and I was just happy to be on the same field with him,” Lacy said. “A part of me is still spectator I guess you could say, so to watch him that was cool, too. But we had a good game on the ground and me and Starks were able to get a lot of yards tonight.”
Quote, unquote: “Mike was rolling in some good calls and guys made plays. Jarrett had a really solid game. He’s really progressed, he’s done a great job. Myles White had some big plays for us, Jordy was himself. He had a huge catch and run there in the second quarter. When he’s playing well and we get one-on-one coverages, you’ve got to make those count..” – Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, on the team's third-down success offensively.
Injury report: The Packers not only managed to come out of the game injury-free, they got Starks back in the mix for the first time since he suffered a knee injury Sept. 22 at Cincinnati, saw second-year cornerback Casey Hayward (hamstring) make his season debut and are now on the verge of getting back a pair of key players – one on each side of the ball.
Outside linebacker Clay Matthews told ESPN.com’s Rob Demovsky that he will have the pins removed from his thumb next Monday, the same day the Packers play the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field. While Matthews will obviously miss that game, he could be back the following week, against Philadelphia on Nov. 10
“A normal break is about 4 to 6 weeks, so we’d obviously be on the shorter end at four weeks,” Matthews said. “I’m hoping for the best. It was a unique break, but I’m praying for the best when they take (the pins) out. It could be as early as Philadelphia. It could be as late as Thanksgiving. Hopefully there’s nothing unforeseen when they do that.”
And wide receiver James Jones, who missed his second straight game with a knee injury, said he expects to play next Monday night against Chicago.
“That’s the plan, man,” Jones said. “We want to try. I’ve been working hard every day in that training room, I’m tired of laying on that table, man. We’ll see. I hope so.”
Starks said the time he missed was due to a partially torn medial collateral ligament in his knee.
In case you missed it:
> Ex-Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings, who repeatedly criticized Rodgers and the organization after leaving as a free agent during the offseason, grabbed Rodgers after the game and talked to him for quite a while, leaning close into his ear as photographers and television cameras surrounded them. Jennings appeared to do almost all of the talking, although Rodgers wouldn’t say what he said. “Greg and I talked. We had a lot of good memories together,” Rodgers said. “I’m not going to talk about what was said. If you want to talk to him about it – I don’t know if he’s going to say anything but you can talk to him about it.” Actually, you couldn’t. Jennings bolted the Vikings’ locker room before reporters were allowed in.
> While Jordy Nelson (seven receptions, 123 yards, two TDs) had the biggest game, Jarrett Boykin (five receptions, 89 yards) followed up last week’s 100-yard game with another solid effort and Myles White (five receptions, 35 yards, one drop) chipped in as well.
“That goes back to Aaron. You're talking about a quarterback getting his timing down and there's a trust factor,” McCarthy said. “It isn't like they're just going out there and running hook routes. You're talking about back-shoulders and tight slants, certain plays off the slot, a key route out there when Myles makes the corner miss and goes 12 yards for a first down. Both of those young guys had a good night and they're getting better."
> Someone asked McCarthy after the game if the Packers would call Brett Favre if Rodgers were to get hurt. No, really, someone asked McCarthy that.
“It was a hell of a football game,” McCarthy replied with a look of disbelief on his face. “I’m going to talk about the game.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.