The Vikings have staked their claim as division favorites with their 23-7 victory over the Green Bay Packers in Week 1. In some ways it’s silly to put too much weight on the first week of the season, but given how the game went, the signs are all pointing in the Vikings’ direction.
In Control For 60 Minutes
The Vikings led for the entire game after scoring on their opening drive. Kirk Cousins hit Justin Jefferson from five yards out to score on a 4th and goal. It was one of the early marks left on the game by @JJettas2, but definitely not the last. Jefferson would end the game with another touchdown to go along with an absurd 184 yards receiving.
The Vikings not only led for the entire game, but they were much more consistent than they were in many games last season. Committing zero turnovers and just three penalties also spoke to the well-rounded nature of the Vikings’ performance.
Aside from Justin Jefferson’s receiving stats, the Vikings didn’t put up necessarily gaudy numbers but did outgain the Packers in total yards, 395 to 338. Their control of the game never truly felt like it was in jeopardy, and this will provide a solid template for them to be poised and consistent in games throughout the season.
Key Momentum Swings
As with all good teams, skill and luck can both be required to exist in victory. While I would never suggest that this win was lucky, there was an early missed opportunity by the Packers that I felt helped the game narrative early.
The Packers’ first pass on the ensuing drive after Jefferson’s early touchdown was an Aaron Rodgers deep ball to a wide-open Christian Watson. This should have tied the game at the 9:17 mark of the first quarter, but the ball instead fell innocently through Watkins’ hands. Again, one dropped ball isn’t enough luck to win you a game, but it did highlight one of the glaring issues the Packers still have at WR. Aaron Rodgers definitely felt the inexperience in his receiving room today, and this will not be an issue easily solved.
Remember I said that skill also needs to be present? The Vikings’ skill was also very much on display this afternoon. One of the bigger moments in the first half was the Vikings’ 4th and goal stop of the Packers on the one-yard line. At the moment, it was an obvious boost to their winning chances. At the symbolic level, it represented the Vikings’ improvement on the defensive line. This unit was good against the run, as well as being menaces in the pass rush.
A Complete Team Victory
Kevin O’Connell will be quite pleased with all components of the Vikings’ roster in this one. On offense they were balanced. In the running game, the offensive line created plenty of space for Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison, who both looked electric. In the passing game, the line only gave up one sack, and Kirk looked crisp.
What stood out to me most though, was the ability to get Justin Jefferson open in space. I mean, on some plays he was so open it was completely mind-boggling. If you don’t believe me, find a highlight video and fantasize about how many records JJ will break if he can be this open every week.
On the other side of the ball, the Vikings were very good as well. They weren’t perfect in rush defense, but they were definitely competent. Most importantly, they flustered Aaron Rodgers. He was sacked four times, and Harrison Smith picked him off as well. They also forced a fumble and did not let Green Bay earn anything easily.
Finally, we in Minnesota have to be excited at the performance of Greg Joseph. Our special teams were also solid in today’s victory, and no player was more important than Joseph. He made all five of his kicks, including three field goals. One of which was a 56-yard boomer. Teams should never be fully satisfied when a drive halts at three points, but it’s always helpful when those three points feel like an automatic option like they did today.
Front Office Victory Laps
In addition to the complete, business-as-usual type of victory for the Vikings’ players, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and his management team should be feeling ecstatic as well. It seemed there were plenty of decisions that appear to be the correct ones, though I suppose we should reserve some judgment as this was only one game.
Za’Darius Smith got his revenge sack, and Jordan Hicks led the team in tackles. Both players were brought in to be major impact players on defense, and both players delivered. Even the decision to keep rookie punter Ryan Wright looked good, as three of his five punts were pinned inside the 20.
The Class Of The North
The title of my article mentions that the Vikings have asserted themselves as the team to beat in the NFC North. Again, after one game this could be a grave overreaction, but considering what the other teams in the division showed in week 1, I do believe the Vikings look the best. Obviously, I’m setting the Vikings above the Packers after the Vikings won comfortably. The Packers’ deficiencies are more severe than I think many people previously thought.
The Lions look to be the next biggest threat, even though they lost to the Eagles. They were outplayed by Philadelphia, but they made the game interesting late. This team continues to play hard, but Jared Goff will continue to limit their potential. The Bears, on the other hand, actually won their game against San Franciso. However, it was a game that made little sense. They benefitted greatly from the poor weather conditions, and still do not scare me as a threat in this division.
What’s Next For The Purple?
An early-season prime-time game looms ahead for the Vikings in Week 2. They travel to Philadelphia for a Monday night showdown against Jalen Hurts’ Eagles. We will get to compare how we do with how the Lions did in Week 1, all in time for the Vikings and Lions to meet in Week 3.
But for now? Let’s savor this one. Our colleague Eli had some immediate takeaways from the game last night but we have a whole week to revel in the positives. The only thing better than starting the season 1-0 is earning that win over the Pack. The only thing better than that? Doing so in a dominating fashion.