Packers vs. Vikings score: Justin Jefferson explodes, Aaron Rodgers gets little help as Minnesota rolls

The Packers entered Sunday's NFC North showdown with the Vikings looking to kick off their fourth straight march to a division title. They left looking like one of the conference's most questionable contenders, falling 23-7 to their rivals. Although reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers was mostly sharp on his own, his supporting cast post-Davante Adams left a lot to be desired. Minnesota, meanwhile, rolled early and often with the ball in its hands, with star receiver Justin Jefferson exploding for a handful of big plays as part of a more pass-oriented attack from new coach Kevin O'Connell.

Here are some instant takeaways from Sunday's big Vikings victory:

Why the Vikings won

They have one of the best skill groups in the NFL. Justin Jefferson remained a walking highlight reel as the team's top target, regularly finding wide-open space to the tune of almost 190 receiving yards and a pair of scores. And his quarterback, Kirk Cousins, was nearly flawless operating Kevin O'Connell's offense, averaging almost 9 yards per attempt. Dalvin Cook was more of a closer in this game, but his speed was also felt. Defensively, new coordinator Ed Donatell's unit was arguably just as impressive, with the new linebacker pairing of Jordan Hicks and Za'Darius Smith applying heat to Rodgers and safety Harrison Smith headlining a goal-line stand and picking off a first-half deep ball from A-Rod.

Why the Packers lost

You guessed it: Rodgers had nobody to throw to. It's been a concern ever since the team dealt Adams, but the concern was justified watching Rodgers try -- and often fail -- to extend plays, only to find that no one was separating downfield. When A.J. Dillon, whose toughness at one point threatened to bring Green Bay back, is your leading receiver, that's a problem. Rookie Christian Watson was the obvious culprit, dropping an early would-be TD bomb, but the front office is the bigger source of the issue. The Packers' line was also shoddy at certain points. As for the "D," it held tight when it mattered late, but only after allowing Jefferson to waltz where he wanted and give Minnesota a big lead.

Turning point

You might say Watson's drop on the first play of the Packers' first offensive series set the wrong tone for Green Bay's day, but the tide really turned in the Vikings' favor when Rodgers heaved a desperation throw to Randall Cobb just before halftime. Down 17, he was in dire need of a chunk play, but Harrison Smith easily outmuscled Cobb on the jump ball for the pick, sending the Packers into the break down three scores and without any offensive rhythm to build on.

Play of the game

Give it to Jefferson, who somehow found a field full of green grass on a crossing route late in the second quarter, and then went the extra mile to score his second touchdown of the day:

What's next

The Vikings (1-0) will go to prime time for a "Monday Night Football" matchup with the Eagles (1-0), who edged the Lions in a 38-35 back-and-forth in Detroit. The Packers (0-1), meanwhile, will hit the "Sunday Night Football" stage for another NFC North matchup, this time with the Bears (1-0), who upset the 49ers in sloppy conditions.

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That'll about do it in Minnesota. Aaron Rodgers wills the Packers close to the red zone with under four minutes to play, but once again his lack of downfield options proves costly. Rookie Christian Watson, who dropped a would-be touchdown on the first offensive play of their day, didn't get his head turned around quick enough on a key screen, and the pass was nearly picked. A play later, facing a fourth-and-1, Rodgers zipped the ball to Robert Tonyan's hands at the goal line, but the tight end couldn't hold on. Vikings lead it 23-7, and they control the clock after a quick Dalvin Cook first down. Cue the upset music!

September 11, 2022, 11:16 PM

Packers defense holds firm in the red zone to preserve a chance for a comeback, though the Vikings are now up 16 after a short field goal from Greg Joseph. Aaron Rodgers is going to need to hit a big gain on his next series if he intends to make this a game.

September 11, 2022, 11:06 PM

Lost a little bit in Justin Jefferson's fantastic day, and the Packers' dismal offensive performance, is how spot-on Kirk Cousins has been in his first action with Kevin O'Connell at head coach. The QB has been darn near perfect throwing all over the field.

September 11, 2022, 10:59 PM

This is the story of the game, from the Packers' angle:

September 11, 2022, 10:53 PM

Aaron Rodgers starts to build a connection with Romeo Doubs, moving Green Bay close to Vikings territory, but Minnesota's D-line gets the best of the series, forcing a punt after Rodgers extends a play from a broken pocket but can't find anyone downfield. There simply are not enough outlets for A-Rod in this game. Minnesota now with a chance to really take a chunk out of the clock, up 20-7.

September 11, 2022, 10:51 PM

The Packers aren't dead yet. Aaron Rodgers finally gets some help from his supporting cast, and Green Bay is on the board, within two scores down 20-7. AJ Dillon pounds it in to seal the scoring drive, but Aaron Jones (long run), Romeo Doubs (reverse first-down run) and even Rodgers himself (as a blocker on Doubs' reverse!) got in on the action.

September 11, 2022, 10:31 PM

It's that kind of day for the Vikings: Karl Joseph nails a 56-yard field goal to push Minnesota's lead to 20. Aaron Rodgers stayed down on the ground for a few seconds after taking the hard hit on his sack-fumble, and the broadcast revealed him getting some sort of neck massage while the Vikings held the ball. Assuming he's back on the field shortly, he desperately needs a scoring drive.

September 11, 2022, 10:19 PM

AJ Dillon appeared to be single-handedly carrying the Packers' offense back to life, picking up a few first downs as both a tough runner and receiver, and then Aaron Rodgers takes a massive shot from linebacker Jordan Hicks, waiting for a big downfield throw to develop, and he loses the ball in the process. It's going from bad to worse when Green Bay has the ball. Vikings now with a prime chance to extend their lead yet again.

September 11, 2022, 10:14 PM

Halftime in Minneapolis. Here's the lowdown: the Vikings have been ultra-efficient and explosive on offense under Kevin O'Connell. Kirk Cousins has been almost flawless feeding Justin Jefferson, who's been wide open on almost all of his big plays. Their defense, meanwhile, save for an early blown coverage that the Packers couldn't capitalize on, has executed soundly with plenty of physicality. The front has forced Aaron Rodgers to move from the pocket, and the back end helped lead a goal-line stand. Green Bay, meanwhile, has yet to find any rhythm offensively. Rodgers is trying to spread the ball around, but mostly because no one is proving too reliable in either their routes, spacing or catching. They came within inches of getting on the board when AJ Dillon was stuffed at the 1-yard line, but otherwise their most promising play was their first: a Christian Watson bomb that the rookie dropped. Matt LaFleur needs to get creative in the second half; involving Aaron Jones more may help, but the Packers also can't afford to burn much clock as they look to overcome a 17-0 deficit.

September 11, 2022, 9:59 PM

Aaron Rodgers was gonna be forced to start taking chances soon, and he finally did it, to no avail. Chucks it up to Randall Cobb on the Packers' first play following Justin Jefferson's big score, and Harrison Smith easily outmuscles the wideout for an interception. That's Rodgers' first pick against an NFC North team since 2019. And it gives Minnesota a chance to add even more to its lead.

September 11, 2022, 9:49 PM

Justin Jefferson is wrecking this game. Vikings suddenly up 17-0 with halftime just around the corner, and No. 18 is a big reason why. Once again the wideout was wide open crossing the field, and Kirk Cousins knows to look his way. Jefferson already up to six catches for 158 yards and two scores with a whole half to go. This is the Vikings' skill talent on full display.

September 11, 2022, 9:45 PM

Another drive, another look at a visibly frustrated Aaron Rodgers. A-Rod himself was probably most at fault for the last pass on the Packers' three-and-out, firing high at Aaron Jones. But it's clear he just doesn't trust any downfield targets at this point. If the Vikings can extend their lead again before halftime, he's going to have no choice but to take chances.

September 11, 2022, 9:34 PM

Imagine if Aaron Rodgers had Justin Jefferson. Kirk Cousins doesn't mind! "Jets" was wide open crossing the field, helping Minnesota get into scoring range after starting from its own 1-yard line. Kevin O'Connell can't finalize his red-zone decision on fourth down, though, so Greg Joseph comes out for the field goal after a delay of game and extends the lead to 10-0. An imperfect but really solid start for the home team in this NFC North battle.

September 11, 2022, 9:27 PM

Right call by Matt LaFleur to go for it on fourth-and-1, down 7-0 halfway through the second quarter, even though AJ Dillon gets stuffed at the line. Aaron Rodgers certainly has to work a little harder to move the ball without Davante Adams, as expected. Wouldn't be surprised if Robert Tonyan keeps getting more targets, but the big takeaway is that Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon are, in fact, going to be busy as pass catchers; they already have a combined four catches. Vikings defense deserves praise for coming up on clutch downs early; Harrison Smith has been especially active coming up from the back end.

September 11, 2022, 9:19 PM

This game may well be an exercise in patience for Aaron Rodgers. Old friend Za'Darius Smith gets the sack to end Green Bay's second straight drive without points, one series after rookie Christian Watson blew past Patrick Peterson for a would-be deep-ball score but just dropped the pass, drawing an unamused look from A-Rod. Vikings in control early, if only because the Packers are clearly still sorting things out with the ball in their hands.

September 11, 2022, 8:56 PM

Pretty much exactly what you wanna see from the Vikings on their first drive if you're a fan. Kirk Cousins starts 4 for 4, Kevin O'Connell goes for it on fourth-and-1 against a division rival in the red zone, and Justin Jefferson fittingly seals it with the short score. Mike Zimmer's team probably would've settled for the field goal. Instead, Minnesota is aggressive, and it pays off. That means Aaron Rodgers will be in the hole when he takes the field for the first time momentarily.

September 11, 2022, 8:35 PM
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September 11, 2022, 8:20 PM
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