MINNEAPOLIS—Aaron Rodgers has engineered many a last-minute comeback for the Green Bay Packers.
He has a dozen victories over the rival Minnesota Vikings in 10 years as the starter.
This time? No chance. Rodgers was long gone—and so was Green Bay's division lead.
Harrison Smith led the Minnesota defence's thorough dismantling of the Packers, who lost Rodgers to a broken collarbone and left with a 23-10 defeat to the Vikings yesterday afternoon that transformed the trajectory of the NFC North race.
Smith had 1.5 sacks on safety blitzes, a diving interception, and two pass break-ups, helping the Vikings (4-2) limit the injury-depleted Packers to a season-low 227 yards.
“I don't think we altered a whole lot,” Smith said.
“We had a game plan and we pretty much stuck to it.”
Anthony Barr, who later left with a concussion, delivered the game-changing hit on Green Bay's second drive when he took Rodgers hard to the turf as the two-time NFL MVP followed through on a pass.
Rodgers fell on his throwing shoulder, and the Packers (4-2) announced he could miss the rest of the season.
“I'm not into the sooth-saying stuff,” Vikings' coach Mike Zimmer replied when asked if he thought the momentum in the division had shifted toward his team.
“Obviously he's a great player," Zimmer noted. ”It's different when he's not in there. There's no doubt about it.
“But that's just the way it is.”
Brett Hundley threw his first career touchdown pass in relief, connecting with Davante Adams in the second quarter after a 63-yard return by Clay Matthews of Jerick McKinnon's fumble gave the Packers the ball at the 18.
Damarious Randall's interception of Case Keenum later in the first half put the Packers at the Minnesota 38 with a prime opportunity to tie the game at the break.
But a juggling catch by Ty Montgomery at the goal line was ruled incomplete by a replay review reversal that forced a short field goal instead and kept the Vikings in front 14-10.
The Packers had just five first downs and 102 yards over the first three quarters.
“That was a hard day," said Packers' coach Mike McCarthy. ”All the players that we lost to injury, it was difficult.
“We all understand the magnitude of what Aaron means to our football team,” he added.
The Vikings have won three of their past four games against the Packers after a lopsided five-year stretch against their biggest rival fuelled mostly by the mastery of Rodgers.
Now the Packers must move forward with Hundley, who has just 44 pass attempts in three NFL seasons.
“We've been put through a lot of tests in the past," Adams noted. ”So just bounce back, figure it out, and rally.
“We've got a lot of faith in Brett.”
Hundley was picked off three times and sacked four times. He finished 18-for-33 for 157 yards.
“I love Aaron to death. I let him know I love him and I've got him,” Hundley said.
“And we'll go from here.”
McKinnon made up for his turnover with 16 carries for 69 yards and a score, along with five catches for 30 yards and a touchdown for the Vikings, who so far have survived the absence of quarterback Sam Bradford and running back Dalvin Cook, who is out for the season with a knee injury.
Keenum, making his fourth start in place of Bradford, went 24-for-38 for 239 yards without top wide receiver Stefon Diggs.
He threw 13 times to Adam Thielen, completing nine for 97 yards.
“There's no drop-off," McKinnon said. "And I think we're confident in whoever steps up at any position.”
Elsewhere in the NFL, New England beat the N.Y. Jets 24-17, Chicago topped Baltimore 27-24 (OT), Pittsburgh upended Kansas City 19-13, Miami edged Atlanta 20-17, Houston dumped Cleveland 33-17, and Washington shaded San Francisco 26-24.
New Orleans bombed Detroit 52-38, the L.A. Rams beat Jacksonville 27-17, Arizona topped Tampa Bay 38-33, the L.A. Chargers nipped Oakland 17-16, and the N.Y. Giants downed Denver 23-10.