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Packers start hot, hold on to beat Vikings 21-16

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Green Bay jumped out to a 21-0 lead and held on for dear life as the Packers defense once again stepped up against the NFC North rival Vikings.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Week 1 can be a liar. Conference contenders can look discombobulated, while future also-rans fly out of the gate with alacrity. Defenses who will soon tarnish will shine and offenses who inevitably fade, glow red hot. As Aaron Rodgers and the offense struggled against the Bears, the call for play-action grew. First play against the Vikings: Rodgers finds Davante Adams for 39 off a run fake. If Week 1 wasn’t a harbinger of things to come with the Packers offense, the first play of Week 2 was, at least for the rest of the first half. Green Bay marched down the field, punching the ball in the end zone on a screen to Jamaal Williams.

It was the best of what Matt LaFleur’s offense can be. Earlier in the drive, they showed a swing pass to Aaron Jones. Off the same look inside the red zone, Rodgers faked the swing, came back to Williams on the screen who powered into the end zone. It the first of three touchdown drives as the Packers took a 21-0 lead as they held on for the 21-16 win.

Against the Bears, who consistently threw two and even three defenders at him, Davante Adams managed four catches for 36 yards. The burgeoning superstar hung 87 on five catches on Xavier Rhodes and Co. in the first half alone, ending the game with 106 yards on seven grabs.

Aaron Jones, whose first-down production in particular buoyed the Packers, followed a similar path. After getting bottled up by Chicago for 39 yards on 13 carries in Week 1, Jones creased the Vikings for 14 carries for 63 yards and a touchdown through two quarters, finishing with 116 yards on a career-high 23 totes.

Most importantly, Rodgers rebounded, carrying a perfect passer rating well into the first half with 151 yards and two touchdowns through two quarters. And it could have been even more. Geronimo Allison fumbled with the Packers pressing into Vikings territory for a score that could have put the game out reach. Green Bay led 21-7 after a 75-yard Dalvin Cook burst, but maintained control of the game at the time.

But they are both that team, one capable of lighting up one of the best defenses in football, and the one who sputtered, flubbed, and whiffed most of the second half. That’s the offense we saw in Week 1 without the creativity, the effectiveness, the crisp execution, and mostly importantly, the points. After starting 10-11 for 137 yards and two touchdowns, Rodgers went 8-19 for 72 yards.

After the Vikings cut the lead to 14, Allison failed to pick up the first-down on an option route on third-and-1. A play later, the Vikings stuffed the Packers on fourth down, already in field goal position, robbing Green Bay of at least three points. Green Bay could have realistically hung 30+ on Mike Zimmer’s defense without its third and fourth cornerbacks due to injury.

Speaking of defense, Mike Pettine’s group didn’t suffocate Kirk Cousins the same way it did Mitch Trubisky, but the passing attack never really got on track outside of a 61-yarder to the son of former Packers receiver Don Beebe to set up a field goal. That play, a magician act from Cousins to avoid a sack and dump the ball off, preceded a called touchdown to Stefon Diggs, but a booth review determined Cook blocked a Packers defender (actually, it was two) in the end zone, and overturned the score. Green Bay’s defense held to a field goal and took a 21-10 lead into halftime instead of 21-14.

The ferocious, disruptive, playmaking group once again showed up, harassing Kirk Cousins, blanketing receivers, and turning the ball over. Kenny Clark whipped the Vikings offensive line up and down the field, including for a first-half strip sack. Darnell Savage forced a fumble and tripped a pass that Preston Smith caught for a pick en route to forcing Cousins into the fewest first-half completions (four) of his career.

Not every week will be as dominant as Week 1, but this side of the ball showed what they did against the Bears was not a mirage. No lying eyes from the start of the season; this Green Bay defense is legitimately good. For the second straight week, they saved a critical score with an interception in the end zone, this one from Kevin King after a rough day for him.

On the other side of the coin, the Packers protected the ball extremely well against the playmaking Bears defense. Sloppy turnovers kept Minnesota in the game, allowing them to hang around when Green Bay dominated run of play for most of the day. While the Packers defense made life miserable for Cousins, he did burn them for a 45-yard touchdown to close the lead down to one score at 21-16 in the second half, but penalties struck on Minnesota a week after they shot themselves in the foot constantly with penalties. The unsportsmanlike conduct call on Diggs for taking off his helmet cost them 15 yards on the extra point try that Tony Brown eventually blocked.

Play-to-play, the Packers defense executed the gameplan, but some missed tackles and chunk plays gave Minnesota life. Penalties and off-target throws blunted what could have been an even more productive day for the Vikings offense starting in the middle of the second quarter as they started to find a rhythm Those have to get cleaned up moving forward as guys like Kevin King, Savage, Jaire Alexander and this young secondary makes progress together.

Likewise, we shouldn’t be surprised the offense slowed down after a blazing start. This is a group in progress with LaFleur adjusting to Rodgers and vice versa. With the running game working, LaFleur’s philosophy should be hitting fifth gear, but instead, the offense bogged down starting with the Allison fumble. When they go play-action, the offense works in harmony, punctuated by the first down the Packers picked up to help salt the game away on a boot to Davante Adams.

The run game got going. Adams found his groove. Rodgers looked more comfortable. And Green Bay’s defense showed out, forcing two picks and three fumbles (recovering two). For now, that’s the recipe to win games as the scheme takes root. More pass-catching need to step forward after another forgettable game from Jimmy Graham and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Trevor Davis never saw the field and Jake Kumerow only found spot duty.

They’re still figuring things out, and against a good defense, jumping out to a 21-0 lead points to progress. The offense may be high-variance for a few more weeks, potentially even all season. But with Jones, Adams, and this group of defensive playmakers, they’ve proven through two weeks, they can be whatever they have to be in order to win, even if it’s tough to look at.