It’s a new day and chapter in Vikings history. The experience has never been quite like this combined with the expectations.
Quarterback Sam Bradford, in his first start with the Vikings, delivered a big time performance, outplaying Aaron Rodgers in a 17-14 hard-hitting Vikings win before 66,813 at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Sunday’s early season showdown in the NFC North was everything it was built up to be. The game was an old fashioned physical border battle that was like a bar fight. The fact that it was in primetime on NBC, the number-one show in television, just added to the drama. It’s the second week in a row the Vikings rallied to win. It’s no secret the Vikings have a big time defensive unit — when you can stop people, you’re always in the game.
Green Bay led early 7-0 after Aaron Rodgers hit Jordy Nelson with a one-yard touchdown pass. The Packers’ Ty Montgomery and Damarious Randall blocked Jeff Locke’s punt.
Offensively, the Vikings again struggled to sustain drives, as the Packers loaded up on defense to attack the Vikings offensive line. Putting eight and nine players in the box, Adrian Peterson ran 12 times for just 19 yards, before he left the game with a right knee injury in the third quarter.
It’s been tough going for Peterson, who in two games has just 50 yards on 31 carries. Head Coach Mike Zimmer said, “He might miss a week. I don’t know if he will or not. Whatever it was has calmed down now, so we’ll see.” Peterson told me his right knee locked up on him and he did not want to put any weight on it. It has since been reported that Peterson suffered a torn meniscus and will be undergoing further evaluation.
Bradford clearly has done his homework getting this offense down. He was brilliant, with 22 of 31 for 286 yards and two touchdowns. Wide receiver Stefon Diggs was terrific with nine catches for 182 yards and a touchdown.
He is the first Vikings receiver with back-to-back 100 yard games since Cris Carter in 1997. “I was just trying to get open for my guys,” said Diggs. “[And] do things the right way. Run the right routes, at the right depth and catch the ball for him and do my job.”
Diggs, in his second season, leads the NFL in receiving yards with 285. With Bradford and Diggs, plus tight end Kyle Rudolph, maybe the Vikings are transitioning to a more balanced offense instead of 60-40 run pass. “It feels good to come out with a win. Obviously, any time you can beat a division rival, it’s a great win for this team.” said Bradford.
The Vikings led 10-7 at halftime. The halftime show featured a tribute to Prince by the award-winning Minnesota Orchestra, who played “Purple Rain,” accompanied by The Steeles.
The Packers were on the attack for most of the game, but Head Coach Mike McCarthy made a critical decision. On fourth down and two, at the Vikings 14 late in the third quarter, the Packers passed on a certain game-tying field goal and went for it. But James Starks was stuffed at the 13 yard line, as defensive lineman Linval Joseph and Brian Robison combined to stop Starks.
The Vikings then used the momentum of the big defensive stop to drive six plays in 87 yards: two huge Bradford-to-Diggs throws of 46 yards, and the game-winning 25-yard touchdown from Bradford to Diggs for a score of 17-7 Vikings.
Rodgers tried to bring the Packers back in the fourth. He ran 10 yards for a touchdown to bring the score to 17-14 Vikings. The Packers were on the move again in the fourth quarter when veteran defensive end Robison sacked Rodgers from behind and forced a fumble that was recovered by Sharmar Stephen.
The 2-0 Vikings next travel to North Carolina to face the 2015 NFL MVP Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers, the defending NFC Champions.
Over the last year and a half, the Panthers are 18-1 against everyone except the Super Bowl Champions Denver Broncos, having lost to them 24-10 in Super Bowl 50, and 21-20 in the 2016 NFL kickoff in back-to-back games.
Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.