GREEN BAY — Aaron Rodgers called it a “boneheaded” mistake on his part. Fortunately for the Green Bay Packers quarterback and his team, it didn’t turn out to be a game-changing mistake.
The play came with 1 minute, 33 seconds left in the first half of the Packers’ 21-16 victory over the Minnesota Vikings Sunday at Lambeau Field. On third-and-1 from Minnesota’s 25-yard line, Rodgers completed a pass to wide receiver Geronimo Allison for what appeared to be — to Rodgers at least — enough for a first down.
The only problem? Referee John Hussey’s crew marked Allison short of the first down, and when Rodgers ran a quick handoff to Jamaal Williams thinking it was a first-down play, it was actually fourth down. Williams was stuffed for a 2-yard loss, and the Vikings took possession — and the momentum.
“My bonehead play took away some points,” Rodgers lamented.
How so? Under normal circumstances, the Packers surely would have had kicker Mason Crosby attempt a 43-yard yard field goal, which would have pushed their lead to 24-7.
Asked what happened from his perspective, Rodgers replied, “I looked over at Carl Johnson, the line judge, and he had spotted first down. It looked from my vantage point that it might have been a positive questionable spot for us. And under 2 minutes, that's a booth (replay) review. So I just wanted to get us on the ball quickly.
“From the time it took Carl to spot the ball to whatever happened when it went inside, I just assumed first down because when he put the ball down, I was looking at the first-down marker and it was clearly past the line to gain. I don't know what happened when it came back inside, but obviously I thought it was first down there — and it was definitely not first down. It was fourth down. That was a bad play by me."
While Rodgers didn’t realize it was fourth down, head coach Matt LaFleur did — but said he didn’t let Rodgers know quickly enough.
“I’ll say this: I’ve got to do a better job of communicating to Aaron in that situation. He thought it was a first down and I’ve got to let him know that we’re going to take points there,” LaFleur said. “But you live and learn. … It probably was where I could have burned a timeout.”
The Vikings actually drove down for a 3-yard Stefon Diggs touchdown reception, but that play was erased by a replay booth review that found offensive pass interference on the play. Minnesota settled for a field goal to make it 21-10 at the half.
“I don't make plays like that. I've always prided myself on having really good clock awareness and game awareness,” Rodgers said. “I should have just looked and made sure it was first and not a fourth because obviously fourth-and-1 we don't want to run that play.”
The Vikings took issue with the call on Diggs’ touchdown, but NFL senior vice president of officiating Al Riveron explained that, because all scoring plays are automatically subject to replay review, all aspects of scoring plays are reviewed. And Riveron’s replay staff in the NFL offices in New York nullified the touchdown when it saw running back Dalvin Cook blocking Packers safety Darnell Savage while the ball was in the air.
“Every time, by rule, there’s a score or turnover, here in New York we automatically take a look at all aspects of the play, which this year includes offensive and defensive pass interference,” Riveron explained. “After we looked at the play, we saw clear and obvious visual evidence that No. 33 (Cook) significantly hinders the opponent while the ball is in the air. Therefore, we negate the score and call offensive pass interference.”
Adams comes alive
After being held to four receptions for 36 yards in the season opener, Packers wideout Davante Adams broke through with seven receptions for 106 yards on nine targets. However, the Vikings did curtail him during the second half, limiting him to two receptions for 19 yards after halftime.
Adams wasn’t alone in crossing the 100-yard barrier, however; halfback Aaron Jones ran 23 times for 116 yards and a touchdown.
“That’s what we’re after. We want to be the most balanced attack in the league,” Adams said. “We’ve got some pretty good receivers and we’ve got some pretty good running backs. Mix that with the quarterback that we have, it will be dangerous.”
The Packers rotated veteran Lane Taylor and rookie second-round pick Elgton Jenkins at left guard during the game, although Taylor did come through with a critical block on a late run by Jones to pick up a first down as the Packers worked to run out the clock. Taylor held off Jenkins’ challenge during preseason but clearly the coaches wanted to see Jenkins in regular-season action.
“Just because Lane started the year … every position is going to be up for competition throughout the entire season,” LaFleur said. “We feel good about both those guys. That’s why they’re both here and it’s a competitive situation.”
All in the wrist
Rodgers did wear the play-calling wristband during the game, although he said he and LaFleur didn’t use it more than “five or six times” during the game. The reasoning behind it: It allows LaFleur to call a play by number, which saves him time getting the play into Rodgers so Rodgers can relay it to the huddle faster and get to the line of scrimmage sooner.
“This is probably the wordiest offense I've been in since Cal (in college),” Rodgers said. “It just helps with the communication, so (LaFleur) doesn't have to say 12 syllables to me, and then I say 12 syllables in the huddle. It helped speed things up a little bit.
Said LaFleur: “I know it helped me to be able to spit out a play call a lot faster. That’s for sure. We’ll assess it moving forward and see how it goes.”
LaFleur was pleased with the way the Lambeau Field crowd of 78,416 responded to his and Rodgers’ pleas to be loud at the right times and improve the homefield advantage — even though perhaps 20 percent of the crowd was clad in Vikings purple.
“It was an electric atmosphere. I thought our crowd really did a great job of getting loud and provided that spark that we’re looking for each and every week,” LaFleur said. “It really allowed us to get out to a fast start. … I thought it was just a great gameday atmosphere.”