Just a few plays into the Green Bay Packers’ week 17 game against the Minnesota Vikings, it looked like the wheels were about to come off the green and gold’s playoff push. Earlier in the day, the Packers got the help that they needed to give them control of the NFC’s final playoff spot when the Cleveland Browns beat the Washington Commanders.
Needing two wins to secure a playoff spot, the Packers then had a chance to get halfway there by beating Minnesota. Just minutes into the game, however, it appeared that everything might go wrong; a blocked punt by the Vikings’ Josh Metellus set up Minnesota on the edge of the end zone. But the Packers’ defense got a tremendous goal line stop, holding the Vikings to a field goal.
After that, it was all Packers, and their highest-scoring game of the season got off to a thrilling start. Keisean Nixon delivered a lightning bolt to the Lambeau Field crowd, returning the ensuing kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown. Green Bay then got a pick-six from Darnell Savage two drives later, spotting the offense a 14-3 lead.
The defense was the story for much of the game, as the Packers picked off Kirk Cousins three times and forced another fumble from the Vikings quarterback. The offense finally got moving in the second quarter, kicking two field goals and scoring a touchdown, then added two more trips to the end zone in the fourth quarter. The Packers ended up putting up 41 consecutive points between Vikings scores as Green Bay racked up over 160 yards rushing. By the time the middle of the fourth quarter arrived, both teams began inserting backups as the clock ran down on Green Bay’s blowout win.
With the victory, the Packers will officially have a win-and-in situation next week against the Lions, who come to Lambeau Field in week 18. That game’s kickoff time is to be determined, likely to be announced during the Sunday Night Football game later in the evening. Meanwhile, the Vikings were eliminated from contention for the NFC’s #1 seed and a playoff bye.
The Packers forced a three-and-out on the Vikings’ first possession, getting a pair of short gains in the run game before Rasul Douglas broke up a pass on third down. Green Bay began the game with Darnell Savage at safety, a three-man line of Jarran Reed/T.J. Slaton/Kenny Clark, and Jaire Alexander following Justin Jefferson.
Green Bay’s offense responded with a three-and-out of their own, a disappointment after a 6-yard gain for Aaron Jones on first down. A swing pass to Jones on second down went for no gain and on third down, Rodgers had to scramble out of pressure and threw incomplete off Jones’ hands up the sideline. The Vikings’ special teams delivered the game’s first big play on Pat O’Donnell’s punt, as Josh Metellus blocked the kick and allowed the VIkings to take over inside the Packers’ two-yard line.
The Packers’ defense held strong on three straight plays, getting a win by forcing a field goal. A first-down incompletion was followed by two straight run stuffs up the middle, punctuated by Slaton blowing up Minnesota’s third-string center on third-and-goal and dragging Dalvin Cook down for a loss. Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell elected to take points, with Greg Joseph’s kick giving Minnesota a 3-0 lead.
Keisean Nixon, who did not practice all week long with a groin injury, ensured that the Vikings’ lead did not last long. Taking the ensuing kickoff out of the end zone, Nixon took the return to the house a week after nearly doing so against the Dolphins. His 105-yard return score was the first kickoff return touchdown for the Packers since week 1 of 2011 and gave Green Bay a 7-3 lead.
Here’s a look at the electrifying return score:
Keisean Nixon 105 yards to the HOUSE— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) January 1, 2023
Another three-and-out for Minnesota resulted from some pressure on quarterback Kirk Cousins. He threw incomplete on first and third downs under pressure, and the Packers took over at their own 38 after the ensuing punt.
Aaron Jones got the game’s first down on the first play of the next drive, running off the right side of the line behind Josiah Deguara for 14 yards. After a run of 9, the Packers ran for no gain on second and third downs, then kept the offense on the field for 4th and 1 at the Vikings’ 39. Rodgers took a sack after Danielle Hunter worked through David Bakhtiari quickly. That turned the football over on another 4th down failure, with Minnesota taking over on the Packers’ side of midfield.
Another incredible momentum shift took place four plays later. After a pass breakup by Jaire Alexander on Justin Jefferson that led to the Packers cornerback doing the Griddy in front of the Vikings wideout, Rasul Douglas broke up a 4th-and-3 pass for T.J. Hockenson that fell into the arms of Darnell Savage. The safety, back on the field after being benched for a few weeks, wove through blockers and Vikings players and took the football 75 yards to the house for the Packers’ second return touchdown of the first quarter.
Darnell Savage picks off Kirk Cousins and takes it to the crib!— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) January 1, 2023
The Packers are in control early at Lambeau
That score was Savage’s first interception of the season and his first touchdown as an NFL player, and it gave the Packers a 14-3 lead with just ten minutes elapsed.
The Vikings finally picked up a first down on a 3rd-and-10 on the next drive, as Cousins scrambled out of pressure and picked up 19 yards. After a 16-yard gain by Cook on a screen on the next play, the Packers defense locked down, getting a batted pass by Slaton, a delay of game penalty on Minnesota, and a short gain to set up Joseph for a 46-yard field goal attempt. He pushed it wide right, however, keeping Green Bay’s lead at 14-3 and bringing the Packers’ offense back on the field.
As they did, the offense had the same number of yards as the Packers had points, but they doubled that number with a 14-yard catch by Allen Lazard on 3rd-and-10. Lazard converted another third down a few plays later on a slant before Aaron Jones moved the chains twice more on the ground to reach the six-yard line. Two short runs and an incomplete pass to Lazard sent Mason Crosby out for a short field goal, and his hit from 26 yards away extended the Packers’ lead to 17-3.
After the Vikings drove into Packers territory on the ensuing drive, with the help of an unnecessary roughness penalty on Quay Walker, the Packers defense struck with another turnover. Cousins’ pass deflected off Slaton’s helmet and into the waiting arms of Adrian Amos, who returned the interception to the Green Bay 40-yard line.
Aaron Jones continued his big production from the previous drive on the ensuing series, picking up 31 yards on a 3rd-and-1 toss. A few plays later, Rodgers evaded the Vikings’ pass rush and found a wide-open Robert Tonyan in the back corner of the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown, giving Green Bay a three-touchdown lead before the half.
Minnesota moved the ball late in the first half, crossing midfield on a big gain to KJ Osborn just after the two-minute warning. A sack by Justin Hollins forced the Vikings into a 3rd-and-long, however, and a screen to Alexander Mattison failed to pick up a first down. That set up Joseph for a 50-yard field goal, but he missed once again, this time pushing it wide left.
With no timeouts, under 40 seconds left, and the opening kickoff of the second half incoming, the Packers went for more points before the break. A 16-yard catch for Lazard and an 8-yarder for Tonyan set up Crosby for a 55-yard field goal attempt at the end of the half. Crosby gave it everything he had and the kick hit the top of the crossbar, bouncing over and through the uprights for a 27-3 Packers halftime lead.
Coming out of the half, the Packers got a couple of nice runs from Jones to start, but sputtered out with two incompletions and a throw to Jones for no gain, leading to an O’Donnell punt.
The Vikings looked to put up some points after a sustained offensive drive for the first time all game, and for a while it looked like they would do so. They moved the ball steadily through the air with throws to Hockenson and Adam Thielen, then got another long scramble from Cousins to get into Packers territory. Jefferson finally caught his first pass of the game on that series, gaining 15 yards to get Minnesota inside the red zone. However, Kenny Clark denied that opportunity as he sacked Cousins, stripped the football, and fell on it for a turnover trifecta.
The Packers got a big third down conversion from Randall Cobb on the next series, picking up a 3rd-and-10 with an 11-yard catch-and-run while the Vikings were in disarray, having just 10 men on the field. Christian Watson finally got into the action a few plays later, with his first catch going for a first down. Rodgers finally eclipsed 100 passing yards in the game on that series, which ate up the final seven minutes of the third quarter. On the first play of the final frame, AJ Dillon plowed his way into the end zone from a yard out, scoring his sixth touchdown in the last five games and giving the Packers their highest point total of the season with 34.
Cousins tried to get the Vikings back in the game in one play, heaving a ball up for grabs down the middle. Safety Rudy Ford stepped in front of Justin Jefferson and picked it off for the Packers’ fourth turnover of the game and eighth in the last two weeks.
The #Packers get their FOURTH turnover of the night!#MINvsGB | #GoPackGo— Green Bay Packers (@packers) January 1, 2023
The Packers chewed up some clock while trying to add to their lead, eating up more than five minutes on an 8-play, 45-yard drive. That ended with Rodgers breaking out the belt after pushing the Packers over the 40-point mark with a two-yard rushing touchdown, his first score on the ground of the season.
Cousins finally found the end zone halfway through the fourth quarter. From midfield, he lofted a ball to rookie Jalen Nailor up the left sideline and Nailor fought his way across the goal line for Minnesota’s first touchdown of the day. The Vikings put backups in late and Nick Mullens drove Minnesota down against the Packers’ second-team defense for a second touchdown with just seconds left, bringing the final score to 41-17.