You never want to start an NFL game on the road ceding a kickoff return for a touchdown.
But that’s precisely what the Green Bay Packers did Sunday night.
Fortunately for them, they dominated the remaining 59 minutes, 47 seconds for a 44-31 win over the Minnesota Vikings before a Mall of America crowd and a national television audience.
The first-place Packers earned their fourth win in a row, despite all the injuries, to remain on top of the heap in the NFC North at 5-2.
The Vikes, despite that auspicious beginning, fell to 1-6.
The next men up, in this case Jarrett Boykin and Myles White, both contributed to the effort.
“They’ve got a great team. Very well coached,” Rodgers said of the vanquished afterwards. “We converted a lot of third downs and it was a great win for us.”
There was a lot of talk about former Packer and current Viking receiver Greg Jennings.
Jennings made headlines during the off-season with some comments about Rodgers and the Packers.
Jennings was a non-factor in the contest with just one catch for nine yards.
He chatted up Rodgers on the field after the game after which A-Rod said: “Everything’s cool.”
Cordarelle Patterson took Tim Masthay’s deep boot just in front of the end line and went 109 yards to the house.
The Pack put together a nifty drive to square the balance sheet using 14 plays to go 90 yards capped off with a Rodgers to Nelson connection.
The first quarter ended with that 7-7 score.
Green Bay continued to control the ball and took its first lead on a Mason Crosby 30-yard field goal, 10-7, with 10:29 left in the half.
The Vikings got things going when Adrian Peterson got going and were on the move.
The Packers had them stopped around midfield, but Datone Jones was called for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Minnesota kept the drive alive a while longer, but had to settle for a Blair Walsh 36-yarder to tie it at 10-10 with 5:09.
A-Rod & Co. wasted little time reclaiming the lead when, on a third and six, a Rodgers to Nelson hookup struck gold for 76 yards and a score, more than 50 of those coming after the snag.
When Christian Ponder failed to answer, rookie Micah Hyde took the punt and zoomed 93 yards for and 24-10 cushion with 1:30 ‘til halftime.
The Vikings marched 77 yards the other way and got themselves back in it when Peterson powered in from eight yards out with just four ticks left, reducing the deficit to 24-17.
That play was made possible by a phantom, late pass interference call on Tramon Williams in coverage of former Packer Greg Jennings.
The new lease on life came when Minnesota was about to settle for a field goal.
Ever since Eddie Lacy came on the scene, the Packers have become known for their ball control game.
The ratio of passes to rushes has become far more balanced since the Alabama product took the reins as the starting halfback.
He has been the most productive three-down back the Pack has had in years.
The dry spell between 100-yard rushing games is now measured in weeks instead of seasons.
That was clearly the case as the Packers took the second half kickoff and gobbled up the next 8:10 topping it off with a touchdown.
When his receivers were covered, Rodgers ran for three first downs of his own, including one prior to Lacy’s one-yard plunge.
That made it 31-17 with 6:50 to play.
The Green Bay offense dominated time of possession this night like it was a training camp scrimmage.
Peterson, who single-handedly shredded the Packer ‘D’ in two regular season games last year, was contained by B.J. Raji, Johnny Jolly and Ryan Pickett.
Peterson needed 13 carries to get 60 yards and, despite scoring a TD, did not make a difference.
When GB got the ball back, it was the return of James Starks to the spotlight that took center stage.
A couple of first-down bursts by Starks chewed up even more clock.
He capped off the drive with a 25-yard jaunt for another rushing TD for the heretofore passing offense that is Green Bay’s mantle.
That made it 38-17 in favor of the visitors just about a minute into the fourth quarter.
Yet another drive saw any hopes of a Viking comeback dwindle away.
Crosby’s 20-yard chippie made it 41-17 with 6:10 to go.
Minnesota added to the over/under stat on their next drive which ended with a Toby Gerhart TD run covering 13 yards.
A failed onside kick attempt allowed GB to seal the victory.
The lead went to 44-24 on Crosby’s 45-yard three-pointer with 2:53 to go. Ponder scampered for a touchdown when his Vikings got the ball back, finishing the scorekeeper’s duties for the night, 44-31.
The Pack returns to Lambeau Field on Monday, November 4, when the rival and now Jay Cutler-less Chicago Bears pay a visit.