Aaron Rodgers has two NFL MVP awards and one Super Bowl ring, and he's in his ninth season as the starter for the Green Bay Packers.
Sam Bradford was never on a winning team in his first six years in the league. He had 15 days to learn the Minnesota Vikings offence, then lost his Hall of Fame-calibre running back to injury in the third quarter.
Guess who was the more productive quarterback on Sunday night?
Bradford’s debut was almost as dazzling as the new $1.1 billion (Dh4b) building itself. He completed 22 of 31 passes for 286 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers to lead the Vikings to a 17-14 victory over the Packers.
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“We won, and at the end of the day that’s all that matters,” Bradford said.
The new guy was sharp, though, and that matters a lot for the Vikings and their Super Bowl aspirations that took a hit when Teddy Bridgewater went down on August 30 with a massive injury to his left knee. That triggered the bold trade with the Philadelphia Eagles to bring in Bradford.
“He was the No 1 pick in the NFL draft for a reason,” Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. “He was born for something like this.”
Bradford and emerging weapon Stefon Diggs moved the ball just enough, and the defence did the rest, harassing Rodgers for five sacks and two fourth-quarter turnovers that quashed the comeback and sent the crowd of 66,813 into a deafening frenzy in celebration of the first regular season game at US Bank Stadium.
“Anytime you join a new locker room, it’s not easy at first,” Bradford said. “These guys have had my back from day one.”
Adrian Peterson limped off in the third quarter with a right knee injury, but the Vikings (2-0) proved they still have a lot of options. Diggs caught nine passes for 182 yards and a score. Kyle Rudolph hauled in the first touchdown. They held the Packers (1-1) to 65 total yards in the first half, withstanding an early touchdown pass by Rodgers to Jordy Nelson on a drive aided by two penalties by cornerback Terence Newman.
Rodgers, who ran for 29 yards and a touchdown, had trouble finding a rhythm. He was 12-for-21 for 154 yards in the second half, but the turnovers were costly. Instead, the Bradford-Diggs connection looked like it had been honed for half of a decade.
“When I first got here and started watching tape, he just kind of popped,” Bradford said. “You just kind of notice him. He’s always getting separation. He seems to always be finding a way to get open.”
Takeaways from the game:
• Peterson's status: Peterson left the stadium on crutches with a brace on his right leg. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said he was told the injury had already "calmed down" afterward, but the MRI exam on Monday will be the true test.
“He might miss a week. I don’t know if he will or not,” Zimmer said.
Peterson has netted only 50 yards on 31 rushes this season.
• Rodgers urges calm: Nelson's return has been a boost, but Green Bay's offence has still been missing the quick-strike, big-play ability it has long had under Rodgers. The Packers are still seeking their timing between Rodgers, Nelson, new tight end Jared Cook and the rest of the receivers.
Rodgers, who finished 20-for-36 for 213 yards, targeted Nelson 11 times but completed only five passes to him for 73 yards. Rodgers has a 57.1 completion percentage through two games, the lowest of his career since he’s become a starter. The Packers were tied for last in the NFC last season with 5.7 yards per pass attempt, and they’re at 5.0 now.
“I think we’re close, at times,” Rodgers said. “We just need to figure out what that identity is.”
•Waynes' World: With Xavier Rhodes sidelined for a second straight game because of a knee injury, Trae Waynes again became the workhorse cornerback.
The second-year player held his own, notwithstanding the pass interference and holding penalties he took on the same drive in the third quarter as the Packers moved to the 13 but turned the ball over on downs. Then came the interception at the Minnesota 41 with 1:50 left that sealed the victory.
“I was just fortunate to be in the right spot at the right time,” Waynes said.
• Secondary struggles: With starter Sam Shields still recovering from a concussion and rookie Josh Hawkins also out, Green Bay suited up three cornerbacks, though safety Micah Hyde was also used in coverage. Damarious Randall had a tough time matching up with Diggs, who had nine catches for 182 yards.
After allowing 320 yards passing by Blake Bortles in the opening win at the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Packers were vulnerable again against Bradford. They gave up gains of 44 and 46 yards to Diggs, who was clearly in sync with his new passer.
“When quarterbacks and receivers are on time,” Randall said, “they’re very tough to stop.”
• Loud crowd: After playing the last two seasons outside at TCF Bank Stadium, the Vikings have moved into the controlled climate that should help their passing attack. Most importantly, a stout defence can only be more dangerous when buoyed by the noise enhanced by the roof of the ship-shaped stadium.
The Packers handled the distraction relatively well, but the new building could prove to be louder than the old Metrodome and ought to be one of the noisiest places to play in the league.
“This building was rocking,” Bradford said. “Our fans were tremendous.”
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