GREEN BAY – If the Green Bay Packers were going to discover their blueprint to be a contender this season, Week 17 was a good time to find it.
The Packers approached the precipice of this season that started with Super Bowl expectations ending without a playoff appearance. Over the past month, those chances have steadily crawled back to life. After a 41-17 win against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, the Packers can seal the NFC’s seventh and final playoff spot with a home win against the Detroit Lions next weekend.
Even then, the Packers always figured to be an early playoff exit – at best – with how they’ve played this season. Those expectations might be changing, too.
It’s one thing to beat a Vikings team that, despite 12 wins this season, entered Lambeau Field as a field goal underdog. It’s another to thoroughly dismantle a team that easily handled them in Week 1 at Minnesota. The Packers pulled away with a 27-3 halftime lead, thanks to Mason Crosby doinking a 56-yard field goal over the crossbar as the first-half clock expired.
BOX SCORE: Packers 41, Vikings 17
And thanks to finding the formula this team was built to win during the offseason.
Here’s a look at the Packers’ most dominant win all year.
Jaire Alexander backs up ‘fluke’ comment
If this looked like the right formula, it’s helpful to remember where the Packers originally got off track. Their first major mishap this season came back in Week 1 when defensive coordinator Joe Barry decided not to match top cornerback Jaire Alexander against Vikings superstar Justin Jefferson. With Alexander covering him only a handful of snaps, Jefferson went off for nine catches, 184 yards and two touchdowns. Alexander called that game a “fluke” this week, a nod to how little work he got against Jefferson. Barry fixed that problem Sunday, matching Alexander against Jefferson from the start. Alexander dominated the matchup, limiting Jefferson to one catch on five targets for 15 yards. The Pro Bowl corner did not hide how much he enjoyed the matchup. On their first target, Alexander forced an incompletion from Kirk Cousins to Jefferson down the right sideline. Alexander walked away from Jefferson doing the griddy, Jefferson’s signature dance. By the end of the first half, Jefferson was so frustrated that he flung his helmet near the Vikings sideline, inadvertently hitting an official. It was that kind of day at the office for one of the NFL’s best receivers, courtesy of Alexander.
Darnell Savage shows he can still make plays
When Barry defended his decision not to match Alexander against Jefferson in Week 1, he referenced uncertainty with how the rest of his secondary would hold up against Vikings receivers Adam Thielen and KJ Osborn. The answer, in one word, was domination. The Packers held Cousins to 18-of-31 passing for 205 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions and a 49.2 passer rating. On Cousins’ first pick, cornerback Rasul Douglas deflected a pass intended for tight end TJ Hockenson, who started this season with the Lions. Safety Darnell Savage intercepted the deflection and returned it 75 yards for a touchdown. It’s been a long, frustrating season for Savage, who returned from a benching last week in Miami. Savage said this week his biggest downfield was wanting to make every play, leading him to hunt outside the defense’s scheme. He showed Sunday it’s possible to make plays within the scheme. The Packers’ second interception came from safety Adrian Amos on one of the few snaps Alexander didn’t match Jefferson. Rookie linebacker Quay Walker covered Jefferson instead, and when the Vikings receiver slipped on his route – leading to him flinging his helmet – Amos picked off Cousins’ pass. Safety Rudy Ford got the third interception, playing center field against Thielen. The Packers now have six interceptions in their past two games.
Keisean Nixon ends long kickoff drought
The Packers special teams tried to recover their ugly past at the start of Sunday’s game. Their first punt was blocked. When the Vikings recovered at Green Bay’s 1-yard line, in a game the Packers had to win to avoid elimination, there were flashbacks to last season’s blocked punt in the playoffs against the San Francisco 49ers. But this is a different special teams unit. An improved unit. After the mishap, the Packers dominated the Vikings on special teams. Keisean Nixon led the resurgence, returning a kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. His score came immediately after the Vikings settled for a field goal after the blocked punt, abruptly flipping momentum. It was the Packers’ first kickoff return touchdown since Randall Cobb took one to the house against the New Orleans Saints in the 2011 opener. Of lesser highlight, Vikings kicker Greg Joseph missed 46- and 50-yard field goals in the first half. Meanwhile, Crosby was 2-for-2 on field goals, including the 56-yarder. The Packers have searched for years to find a special teams unit that can make plays. They appear to have finally found one.
Insider: Turning point for Packers vs. Vikings was their defensive stand at the end of the first half
Aaron Jones runs over the Vikings defense
When you go this long without mentioning the offense, it’s maybe the best sign that this Packers team found its formula. It was always going to be a slog this season for an offense replacing Davante Adams with rookie receivers. Along with the defense and special teams, the Packers’ running game was supposed to hold the fort. After Aaron Jones was limited to six carries because of an ankle injury last week, the Vikings had no chance tackling him Sunday. Jones had 111 yards on 14 carries, a 7.9-yard average. AJ Dillon’s numbers were more muted, finishing with 12 carries for 41 yards, but his 2-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter gave him six in the past five games. The Packers run game was rolling against the NFL’s 18th-ranked run defense.