NFL Nation: MNF1 Packers

Rodgers reacts after win

September, 9, 2008
9/09/08
6:21
AM ET

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers reacts after the Packers' victory over the Vikings Monday night.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- We have an answer. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson acknowledged Monday night that it was no accident he ran over the player responsible for his right knee injury last season.

As we noted earlier, Peterson ran over Packers cornerback Al Harris in the first quarter of Green Bay's 24-19 victory. Harris, of course, was the player whose low -- but clean -- hit on Peterson resulted in a torn lateral collateral ligament in the teams' 2007 matchup at Lambeau Field.

"No grudges," Peterson said. "But I definitely wanted to come out and, if I had the opportunity, put a little boom on Harris."

Peterson finished with 103 yards on 19 carries, the seventh 100-yard game of his career.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The evidence was there for everyone to see. The Green Bay Packers were the best team on the field for almost all of Monday night, establishing themselves as the class of the NFC North in a 24-19 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was the most proficient of the teams' young quarterbacks, completing more than 80 percent of his passes in his first NFL start while the Vikings' Tarvaris Jackson completed under 50 percent.

While the Vikings struggled to find a rhythm, Green Bay made big plays in all three phases of the game. On offense, they set up their touchdowns with a 56-yard pass to Greg Jennings and a 57-yard run by Ryan Grant. Will Blackmon contributed a big play on special teams, returning a punt 76 yards for a touchdown, And on defense, safety Atari Bigby's ending the game by intercepting of Jackson.

The Packers were far from perfect but in a game that supposedly matched the top two teams in the NFC North -- apologies, Bears fans -- the game was not as close as the score indicated. For one week, at least, the post-Brett Favre Packers are still the best team in the division.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Packers' rebuilt offensive line is having a tough night with the yellow flag.

When stand-in right guard Tony Moll got called for his third penalty of the night, it was a big one. Because he was standing past the line of scrimmage -- we have no idea why -- Moll nullified Aaron Rodgers' beautiful 68-yard touchdown pass to Donald Driver.

The play would have given the Packers a 17-6 lead midway through the third quarter. Instead, Green Bay wound up punting three plays later.

I also have left tackle Chad Clifton with three penalties and left guard Daryn Colledge with one.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- New Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is making a good impression in his first NFL start, but it will be interesting to see if a decision by his head coach will come back to haunt the team.

Rodgers completed 12 of 16 passes for 139 yards in the first half tonight against the Vikings while also scrambling four times for 35 yards. He was running an excellent two-minute drill at the end of the half and seemed to have the Packers in position for their third score before the drive bogged down at the 16-yard line.

Following Packers coach Mike McCarthy allowed the clock to run from about 20 seconds to three before a third-down play at the Vikings' 15-yard line. Had he called an immediate timeout, the Packers would have had time to take at least one shot into the end zone.

Instead, McCarthy settled for a 42-yard field goal attempt. Mason Crosby's kick was so low it grazed the hand of Vikings cornerback Cedric Griffin and did not advance beyond the line of scrimmage. The block left the Packers hanging on to a 10-3 lead at halftime.

Vikings missing Berrian deep

September, 8, 2008
9/08/08
8:41
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Vikings signed receiver Bernard Berrian in free agency to give them a vertical threat that would open up running lanes for tailback Adrian Peterson. If Berrian were established as a legitimate deep threat, the theory went, opponents wouldn't be able to stack eight or nine players on the line of scrimmage to stop Peterson.

The Vikings are doing their best to utilize Berrian in tonight's season opener, but thus far it hasn't been successful. Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson didn't complete any of the three deep passes he threw Berrian's way in the first half, although officials flagged Packers cornerback Al Harris for a 26-yard pass interference on one of them. Jackson underthrew Berrian on another and Harris got away with a physical play on the third.

Pass interferences and near-misses won't cause any defense to alter its approach. Until Jackson shows he can hit Berrian in stride for a few downfield plays, Peterson will continue to face stacked defenses.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Vikings gave the Packers seven -- yes, SEVEN -- chances to score starting with a first-and-goal at the six-yard line.

Three penalties -- encroachment by Jared Allen, a hold by Vinny Ciurciu and an offsides call on Ben Leber -- extended the Packers' drive. Finally, on third-and-goal from the 1-yard line, Aaron Rodgers hit fullback Korey Hall for a score to give the Packers a 7-3 lead with 10:07 left in the second quarter.

No defense, no matter how good it is, can give an opponent that many chances.

Meanwhile, it appears running back Chester Taylor will replace Maurice Hicks as the Vikings' primary kick returner tonight.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- We'll have to wait until after the game to find out if Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson realized he was squared up with Packers cornerback Al Harris on the first play of the Vikings' second possession Monday night. Intentional or not, Peterson exacted a bit of revenge.

Peterson turned the left corner and saw Harris waiting for him at the Vikings' 41-yard line. Lowering his right shoulder, Peterson ran over Harris and left the Packers cornerback on his back while finishing an 11-yard run.

Last season at Lambeau Field, of course, Harris' low tackle left Peterson with a torn lateral collateral ligament. Peterson missed two games amid rumors that Packers had created an informal pot of cash to distribute if Peterson finished the game with less than 100 yards.

Early in tonight's game, Peterson is running like a man who won't be denied 100 yards. He followed the crushing blow on Harris with a 34-yard run to the right side. Peterson, in fact, single-handedly set up the Vikings for the first score of the game, a 37-yard Ryan Longwell field goal with 13 minutes, 35 seconds remaining in the second quarter.

Rodgers pops up after hit

September, 8, 2008
9/08/08
7:29
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Holding penalty. Fumbled snap. Aborted screen play. (With a declined illegal formation play.)

So went the final three plays of the Green Bay Packers' opening possession Monday night. It wasn't the crispest of starts, but we learned one thing: quarterback Aaron Rodgers can take a hit. On the aborted screen, Minnesota Vikings defensive end Ray Edwards drilled him in the back and drove him into the turf.

It was about the closest you can come to a roughing penalty without calling it, but Rodgers popped right up and was in the face of several officials, asking for a penalty.

Green Bay inactives

September, 8, 2008
9/08/08
6:29
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Linebacker A.J. Hawk is active and expected to start tonight for the Green Bay Packers. Defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila is also active.

Hawk missed three preseason games because of a chest injury, but he returned to practice last week and apparently was cleared to open the season. He hadn't missed a start in two previous seasons with the Packers.

The Packers' inactive list contained no surprises. Center Scott Wells (torso) suffered a setback last week in practice and won't play. Right guard Jason Spitz will slide to center. Tony Moll will start at right guard and Daryn Colledge.

The full list:

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

APPLETON, Wis. - This town got off to a rousing start Monday morning. We're headquartered in Appleton, about 30 miles away from Green Bay and the home of most visiting teams for Packers games.

So it was pretty easy to connect the dots of intention when a truck cruised down College Ave., slowed down considerably in front of the Minnesota Vikings' hotel, and started laying on the horn like there was no tomorrow. Not sure what time the Vikings' wakeup call was Monday morning, but we're doubt anyone slept past 7 a.m. CT. Gametime: 11 hours.

We'll be heading up to Green Bay in a few hours and should be in Lambeau Field by early afternoon, where the blogging will commence in earnest. In the meantime, here are extended posts I wrote on the Vikings-Packers rivalry and the teams' running games.

We've brought you our "Black and Blue all over" feature since the ESPN blog network launched in July, with a goal of distilling the volume of NFC North-related stories. We hope this will be an especially valuable service on Monday mornings, considering the thousands of words most newspapers still devote to Sunday games.

Monday night's matchup between the Packers and Vikings left us with only two games Sunday, and like most people, we were surprised by the outcome of both. The Detroit Lions looked nothing like the calm and crisp team that sailed through preseason, while the Chicago Bears were able to turn the switch in time to post an improbably dominant victory at Indianapolis.

Looking at the highlights of Monday's coverage:

  • Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Sun-Times noted the Bears' impressive victory. But, as only a Chicago media member can, Mulligan pointed out the Bears caught the Colts at the right time. Peyton Manning missed the preseason because of a knee injury. The interior of the Colts' offensive line was new. Lucas Oil Stadium robbed the Colts of their hometown crowd weapon. And they're an easy team to run against. Otherwise, it was a great win.
  • The Bears made two personnel changes official: Kevin Payne is the new starting safety while Dusty Dvoracek unseated Anthony Adams at nose tackle.
  • Bears defensive end Adewale Ogunleye had a dominating night, as the Chicago Tribune writes. Three of Ogunleye's six tackles were behind the line of scrimmage, including a safety.
  • Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press puts the Lions' opener in perspective: "When the Atlanta Falcons put a whupping on you, it's time to close shop."
  • Lions quarterback Jon Kitna was trying to stop the confidence bleed afterwards. "You cannot allow yourself to get in the mindset of, it's the same old thing," Kitna said, according to the Free Press.
  • Kitna was part of a sideline dispute with several Lions assistant coaches, but downplayed it afterwards.
  • Speaking of the same old thing: Receiver Roy Williams had one acrobatic touchdown reception, but he admitted to making the wrong adjustment on another play, leading to a third-quarter interception.
  • Tom Kowalski of Mlive.com writes the Lions' poor tackling Sunday is a reflection of a basic lack of talent, not a lapse in coaching.
  • Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune and Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal touch on the rivalry between the teams they cover. Wilde asked coach Mike McCarthy if he disliked the Vikings more than any other NFL team. McCarthy responded with a broad smile that lasted for 15 seconds before Wilde realized that was his (non-) answer.
  • Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes that its time for the Packers' offensive line to come of age, even with injuries that have forced lineup changes at three positions: "Either play up to the standards of a real NFL offensive line -- starting tonight against the Minnesota Vikings -- or step aside for someone else."

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers talks about his debut on Monday Night Football.

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

It all makes sense. Two young quarterbacks. A pair of established tailbacks. The bright lights of national television.

Yes, it's only natural to assume that Monday night's game between Green Bay and Minnesota will be a typical NFC North slugfest -- a ground lover's delight with an occasional screen pass to keep everyone honest. So we're sorry to introduce reality to an annual a day of insanity in the Upper Midwest -- but it's only fair to point out that neither the Packers nor the Vikings will enter Lambeau Field with a well-oiled running game.

GrantPeterson

Green Bay's Ryan Grant played one down this preseason after a holdout and subsequent hamstring injury. He hasn't been tackled since the NFC Championship Game, and Monday night he will run behind a patchwork offensive line that includes backups at both guard positions and, likely, center as well.

The Vikings, meanwhile, ostensibly dedicated their preseason to improving the passing game around quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. In the process, their running game produced less yards than all but one NFL team. Tailback Adrian Peterson managed 51 yards on 20 carries in about four quarters of work, while backup Chester Taylor rushed 14 times for 35 yards.

Preseason statistics aren't usually a reliable indicator of regular-season results, and the Vikings scoffed last week at questions about their rushing totals. It's not exactly a crisis, but the numbers might be worth a raised eyebrow when you recall Peterson's second-half drop-off in 2007.

In the final four games of last season, Peterson ran for a total of 144 yards. Counting the 2008 preseason as one full game, Peterson has averaged about 37 yards per game over the equivalent of a third of an NFL season.

"We just take it with a grain of salt," Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "We know where we are at."

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
 

Detroit Lions at Atlanta Falcons, 1 p.m. ET

A certain buzz followed the Lions around Detroit this summer as fans wondered whether their wide receiver duo and new running game might actually propel the team to a winning season. No less important, however, has been a quieter effort to improve a run defense that has ranked in the bottom third of the NFL for the past three years.

Even after trading Pro Bowl defensive tackle Shaun Rogers, the Lions are hoping to bring a scrappier and more effective run defense to Atlanta this weekend. They'll need it, considering the Falcons intend to rely on new tailback Michael Turner and holdover Jerious Norwood while rookie quarterback Matt Ryan adjusts to the professional game.

Lions coach Rod Marinelli has signed a half-dozen players with ties to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he spent 10 years as an assistant before joining the Lions. Veteran defensive tackle Chuck Darby is one of them, and Darby has been assigned the task of replacing Rogers.

But the Lions needed to make changes to the entire gut of their defense, not just at defensive tackle. Middle linebacker is of significant concern. Veteran Paris Lenon is holding down the position for now, but the Lions were hoping rookie Jordon Dizon would win the job so they could move Lenon to the outside. That development could occur later this season, but as of now the Lions don't have their ideal alignment in place.

  

Chicago Bears at Indianapolis Colts, 8:15 p.m. ET

This statistic bears repeating: The Bears' first-team defense gave up scores on seven of their final nine drives. (A blocked field goal accounted for one of the two non-scoring drives.) And this one is not too far behind: Overall, the Bears' starters and reserves combined to give up more yards per game -- 376 -- than any other NFL team.

You can't put too much stock in preseason statistics, but by any measure the Bears' defense wasn't an impressive group this summer. Certainly, it didn't resemble a defense than can carry a team, as appears to be the Bears' internal recipe considering their underwhelming personnel collection on offense.

No one has sugarcoated the situation. Coach Lovie Smith and defensive coordinator Bob Babich have expressed appropriate concern about effort level, gap control and tackling.

So the question Sunday night will be whether Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Tommie Harris and company can turn on the light in time for the regular season. They won't have a lot of breathing room against the Colts' high-powered offense. Quarterback Peyton Manning missed the preseason after knee surgery, but we're guessing he was especially motivated to return for Week 1 after watching preseason video of the Bears.

Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers, 7 p.m. ET Monday

  

The lights. A slightly inebriated crowd of 72,000. National television. Memories of Brett Favre.

There will be no shortage of pressure Monday night on new Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The Minnesota Vikings, however, want to place another burden at the top of the list: Their defense.

The Vikings acquired defensive end Jared Allen and safety Madieu Williams during the offseason with the goal of elevating their pass defense to a level approaching their already-suffocating run defense. Williams won't play Monday night because of a neck injury, but the Vikings still feel they have made significant strides against the pass this summer.

"There's going to be a lot of pressure [on Rodgers]," Vikings safety Darren Sharper said. "Not just him trying to replace a legend, but what we're going to apply to him. I'm not just saying that as far as talking trash. But playing against a team on Monday night, against a defense as good as ours, it's just going to be a different tone. ... We definitely want there to be some pressure, to get him flustered a little bit. It's going to be difficult [for Rodgers] -- besides the fact that he is replacing Brett and playing at home and all the expectations."

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