Staying in the moment and taking things one game at a time is standard operating procedure in the NFL. It’s a sound strategy considering that the end of the workweek crescendos with three hours of hand-to-hand combat.
But powerful outside forces can sometimes interfere, making the preferred order of business easier said then done. Case in point: A relatively peaceful Sunday in Chicago this week for the Minnesota Vikings, who were settled into their hotel rooms in advance of their Monday night game with the Bears.
A national TV audience was treated to the latest heroic efforts of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers that afternoon. Rodgers ran, threw and willed his team to a last-second victory over the host Dallas Cowboys.
The Vikings had the option of avoiding the late-night highlights if they so chose, but one thing was inescapable: Their heads hit pillows that night knowing the next time Rodgers lined up behind center, it would be at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
That’s not to suggest that the Vikings were guilty of looking past the Bears on Monday night as they struggled to a last-second victory of their own. Rather, it pays homage to the long shadow that Rodgers casts.
In the NFC North — and perhaps the entire NFC — beating Rodgers and the Packers equates to beating the best. That’s something the Vikings have not been good at for an extended period of time. They are 3-11-1 in the last 15 meetings between the two teams, which includes a 2-5 mark in Minneapolis.
Rodgers alone is not the reason for that futility, but he epitomizes the “we’re never out of it” attitude that permeates Green Bay, which has served the Packers well in so many ways. They stand at 4-1 this season despite no shortage of key injuries, with no time for — or interest in — making excuses.
Little has changed, in that the Vikings know that beating the Packers is the measuring stick for determining if they are a playoff-caliber team. Losing at home to Detroit in Week 4 did not help the cause, which adds to the importance of Sunday’s game. Rodgers’ intangibles aside, the Vikings have plenty going in their favor as they try to reverse the trend.
They beat the Packers 17-14 last season in the game that christened their new stadium. Rodgers played liked a mere mortal, completing 20 of 36 passes for 213 yards, with an interception. A strong defense and a rocking home crowd suggest that the Vikings are more than capable of making it two straight wins at home against their biggest rivals.
Limiting the damage done by Rodgers likely holds the key to making it happen.
“I’ve been in the NFL 20-some years,” Viking coach Mike Zimmer said, “and I don’t remember anyone doing the things that this guy does. When you combine everything, his arm strength, his intelligence, his escapability… I think they should trade him.”
Yes, the man does have a sense of humor. Rodgers isn’t going anywhere soon, which leaves the Vikings little room for error on Sunday.
“He can do so many things you have to be on top of everything you do,” Zimmer said. “They have a good scheme, they do a good job of attacking what coverage you are in. And he has a lot of flexibility to change things at the line of scrimmage.”
Best not to let Rodgers use that flexibility in the closing minutes with the game on the line.