By Eric Goska
|Matt LaFleur, shown here in 2019, joined Phil Bengtson|
as the only Packers head coaches to win their first two
NFL season openers. (photo by Eric Goska)
So, what possessed the Green Bay Packers in their 100th season opener as a professional football organization?
How about a remarkable disinclination to share the football?
If possession is nine-tenths of the law, the Packers did their darndest to achieve that threshold. In the opening 30 minutes, more often than not, the offense on the field was adorned in green and gold.
Green Bay parlayed its early edge in time of possession into a 43-34 victory over the Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium Sunday. By the time the visitors released their stranglehold on the ball, they had wrested control of the game.
Kickoff 2020 was unlike any of the 99 before it. With preseason games canceled and training camp shortened because of a global pandemic, more unknowns than usual accompanied the Packers into the opener.
But if this first outing is any indication, Green Bay remains dangerous offensively, Aaron Rodgers is not ready to abdicate his quarterback spot any time soon, and Davante Adams continues to be one of the best receivers in the NFL.
That potent offense, combined with a three defensive stops, allowed the Packers to dominate time of possession in the first half. The 22 minutes, 45 seconds they extracted was the most on the road by the team in any regular-season game over the last 45 years.
In the opening two quarters, Rodgers and the offense ran 44 plays to the Vikings’ 17. That difference of plus-27 is the fourth highest by the team since 1954.
Green Bay averaged over five-and-a-half minutes on its first four possessions. Then, to showcase its quick-strike ability, Rodgers hit Marquez Valdes-Scantling from 45 yards out to cap a two-play, 11-second drive that put the team up 22-7 just before halftime.
Eight players contributed first downs in the first half: Davante Adams (6), Jamaal Williams (3), Josiah Deguara, Tyler Ervin, Aaron Jones, Allen Lazard, Rodgers and Valdes-Scantling. Vikings’ penalties provided three other first downs.
Minnesota, too, looked unstoppable early. It marched 60 yards to a touchdown in eight plays the first time it had the ball.
But Green Bay shut down the Vikings’ next three advances. Jaire Alexander dumped Kirk Cousins for a safety on a cornerback blitz midway through the second quarter, Za’Darius Smith sacked Cousins to end another drive, and Alexander stifled a third by intercepting a pass intended for Adam Thielen.
All told, the Vikings ran just seven plays over that span.
Though Dan Bailey tacked on a 35-yard field goal as the second quarter expired, Minnesota never got closer than nine in the second half.
Possessing the ball for 20 minutes or more in the first half on the road is a rarity for the Packers. They’ve done it 13 times since 1975 and their record in those games is 9-3-1.
The team’s previous high of 22:23 came in Jacksonville in 1995. Green Bay prevailed 24-14 while gaining 322 yards.
Holding the ball so long, so early set the stage for a number of records.
- Adams’ 14 reception tied Don Huston’s team record set against the Giants in 1942.
- Rodger’s 4 TD passes gave him 27 in season openers pushing him past the 24 of previous leader Brett Favre.
- Green Bay’s 522 yards of offense snapped the previous opening-day haul of 484 in a 37-34 overtime win against the Falcons in 2002.
- The 43 points by the Packers was an opening-day best, one more than the club registered in a 42-34 conquest of the Saints in 2011.
The Packers outpossessed the Vikings in the second half as well. They held the ball for 18:31 compared to 11:29 for their hosts.
That, however, didn’t preclude Minnesota from forging ahead. Held to 97 yards in the first half, Cousins and Co. amassed 285 yards and averaged nearly nine yards a play in the second half.
In the fourth quarter alone, the Vikings piled up 188 yards and 24 points.
Those are scary numbers. They should serve as a reminder – are you listening Green Bay? – that no lead is safe in the NFL.
Since 1975, regular-season road games in which the Packers held the ball for more than 21 minutes in the first half. TOP = time of possession.
TOP Opponent Date Result
22:45 Vikings Sept. 13, 2020 GB won 43-34
22:23 Jaguars Sept. 24, 1995 GB won 24-14
21:49 Buccaneers Oct. 12, 1980 GB tied 14-14
21:27 Raiders Nov. 11, 1990 GB won 29-16
21:02 Vikings Dec. 17, 2000 GB won 33-28