Packers clinch NFC’s top playoff seed with win over Vikings

January 3, 2022
Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Preston Smith (91) celebrates after sacking Minnesota Vikings quarterback Nate Stanley (not pictured) in the second quarter at Lambeau Field.
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GREEN BAY, Wis. – As soon as the Minnesota Vikings lost starting quarterback Kirk Cousins to the reserve/COVID-19 list this week, the question wasn’t whether the Green Bay Packers would win Sunday at home, but by how much. 

And what would be at stake. 

The answer to both: a lot. 

The Packers jumped out to a 20-3 halftime lead and never were in danger after that, cruising to a 37-10 victory at Lambeau Field. The win clinched the NFC’s top overall playoff seed for a second straight year. With a 13-3 record for the third straight season, the Packers do not need to win next week to have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and the conference’s lone first-round bye. 

With a comfortable lead, the Packers used Sunday night’s win as a coronation. Records fell. New standards were set. 

Start with Aaron Rodgers’ first touchdown of the night, a 20-yarder to receiver Allen Lazard on a back-shoulder throw that saw Lazard make a nifty adjustment in the right, corner end zone. It was Rodgers’ 55th career touchdown pass against the Vikings, one more than Brett Favre’s 54 for most ever. 

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After surpassing Favre for most touchdown passes thrown against the Chicago Bears earlier this season, Rodgers now has thrown more touchdowns against the Packers’ two bigger rivals. 

Rodgers appears to be distancing himself in the race for MVP as the NFL season winds down. He finished 29-of-38 for 288 yards, two touchdowns no interceptions and a 114.8 passer rating before being pulled for Jordan Love in a blowout with 7:18 left. That gave Rodgers 3,977 yards, 35 touchdown passes, four interceptions and a 111 passer rating this season, making him the clear favorite to win his second straight MVP.  

The quarterback was serenaded with “MVP” chants several times Sunday night. It would be the fourth of Rodgers’ career, second behind only Peyton Manning’s five for most in NFL history. 

Rodgers’ second touchdown pass Sunday night came from 11 yards out with 1:09 left before halftime, effectively ending the game by giving the Packers a 20-0 lead. It also went to Davante Adams, who had himself a night. Adams caught eight passes for 118 yards and a touchdown — before halftime. He ended with 11 catches and 136 yards. 

Adams’ 11 catches gave him 117 this season, breaking his own single-season franchise record of 115 set last season. He broke the record with a 5-yard catch in the left flat early in the fourth quarter. His night ended 22 yards shy of setting a new single-season Packers record. Jordy Nelson owns the record with his 1,519 yards in 2014. 

The All-Pro receiver also became the fourth wideout in Packers history to exceed 8,000 yards for the team, joining Donald Driver (10,137 yards), James Lofton (9,656) and Sterling Sharpe (8,134). He passed Don Hutson’s 7,991 career yards on Sunday night. Adams is only the sixth receiver in NFL history with at least 600 catches, 8,000 yards and 70 touchdowns in his first eight seasons, joining Jerry Rice, Randy Moss, Marvin Harrison, Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald. 

That is Hall of Fame company. 

It wasn’t only a night for the offense. The Packers’ defense also pushed closer to milestones. 

Rashan Gary and Preston Smith each had a sack, continuing their race to see who reaches double digits first. Gary has 9.5 sacks this season, more than the seven sacks he had combined in his first two seasons. Smith has nine sacks, remarkable considering he had only two sacks in the season’s first eight games. He has seven sacks in his past seven games, turning it on in the season’s second half to put last year’s slump behind him. 

It was as complete a victory as the Packers have had this season, not surprising given the Vikings’ quarterback situation with Cousins out. On its own, the victory presented perhaps the most impressive milestone of the night. The Packers now have 39 catches through their first three seasons with Matt LaFleur, most ever for an NFL head coach through the first three seasons of a tenure. 

LaFleur could get his 40th victory next week in Detroit. He’ll have a tough decision to make in the week ahead, whether to rest his starters with home field clinched and a first-round bye upcoming. 

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