MINNEAPOLIS — Aaron Rodgers has the Green Bay Packers on a roll, even without three of his best receivers.
With help from a powerful running game, Rodgers picked apart what was left of Minnesota’s defense on Sunday night.
Ignoring the injuries around him, Rodgers threw two first-half touchdown passes to Jordy Nelson and guided the Packers to a 44-31 victory over the Vikings on 24-for-29 passing for 285 yards.
Christian Ponder’s encore went poorly for the Vikings (1-6), who sent out a different starting quarterback for the third straight week. Adrian Peterson gained a quiet 60 yards on 13 carries, Greg Jennings had just one catch against his old team, and the Vikings offense counted only three plays in the third quarter as the Packers (5-2) pulled away in their final game at the Metrodome, now known as Mall of America Field.
‘‘We've got a great team, very well-coached,’’ Rodgers said. ‘‘Guys are ready to play. It was loud in here. It was a tough environment, but guys stepped up.’’
Ponder didn’t turn the ball over, but he was again out of sorts in the pocket all night and unable to make much happen at all if his intended target was covered. He finished 14 of 21 for 145 yards against a defense missing three starting linebackers to injury, and added a late touchdown run.
The Vikings beat the Packers, 37-34, last December to make the playoffs. But they needed 199 yards rushing from Peterson and the best game of Ponder’s career to do it, because Rodgers has rarely found resistance from this defense in purple. In his last eight games against the Vikings, he has 22 touchdowns and only three interceptions while completing roughly three-quarters of his passes. The Packers have won seven of those games.
Micah Hyde had a punt return for a touchdown for the Packers, who never punted and held the ball for more than two-thirds of the game to counteract Cordarrelle Patterson’s opening 109-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. The Packers have won 15 of their last 16 games against NFC North teams.
Patterson put the Vikings in front before Ponder even touched the ball, with a breathtaking run through the middle of Green Bay’s kickoff coverage that was so fast only Hyde, the rookie cornerback from Iowa, had a chance to tackle him.
Even the longest possible play in the sport wasn’t enough for the Vikings to feel good about facing Rodgers, though.
The Packers scored on their first two possessions, running a total of 31 plays for 160 yards that drained 15 minutes and 48 seconds off the clock. The touchdown to cap the first drive was a Rodgers classic, a laser on a corner route that somehow slipped past Josh Robinson into Nelson’s outstretched hands despite the cornerback being about as close as could be to the receiver without interfering.
The way Eddie Lacy, the NFL’s top rookie rusher, has been pounding the ball, Rodgers hasn’t had to come up with as many clutch throws with his top targets missing. Lacy and James Starks took turns trampling an exhausted Vikings defense, with each guy contributing a TD on the ground and the Packers gaining a season-high 182 yards rushing.
Sixteen of the last 21 regular-season games between these rivals were decided by a touchdown or less, but this went down as one of the outliers in this historically even series.