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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Aaron Rodgers had some competition from fearless rookie Christian Ponder. The defending champion Packers still kept their cool.
Rodgers kept Green Bay unbeaten with three touchdowns and 335 yards passing, holding off the plucky Ponder in the rookie’s first start to defeat the Minnesota Vikings 33-27 on Sunday.
Rodgers completed his first 13 passes and finished 24 for 30, another near-unstoppable afternoon for him. Ponder was picked off twice in the third quarter by Charles Woodson, who almost grabbed a couple more interceptions, but he kept the Vikings in it the whole game after a 71-yard completion on his first play.
Adrian Peterson rushed 24 times for 175 yards and a touchdown for the Vikings (1-6), but James Starks put the game away with two big gains for first downs before the 2-minute warning and finished with 75 yards on 13 carries.
Mason Crosby had four field goals for the Packers (7-0), including a franchise record 58-yarder, delighting the thousands of Packers fans in attendance who made the trip across the border.
This rivalry is still fierce, as evidenced by a couple of skirmishes early in the game.
Vikings defensive end Brian Robison, frustrated by some unwelcome contact from Packers guard T.J. Lang during one second-quarter play, gave Lang a swift kick to the groin area, a caught-on-camera personal foul that drew a penalty and is likely to bring Robison a fine.
Ponder’s first foray against the Packers, despite the mistakes, showed flash and promise.
He went 13 for 32, but the kid from Florida State never looked rattled — including one third-down completion when Clay Matthews leveled him as he threw, drawing a disputed late hit call — and finished with 219 yards and two touchdowns.
With Donovan McNabb watching by himself on the sideline, wearing a backward black baseball hat with his hands on his hips, Ponder moved around in the pocket and put the ball there for his receivers in stride, which McNabb struggled to do. Ponder also ran four times for 31 yards.
Ponder found Michael Jenkins for a score with 7:49 left after a rare three-and-out by the Packers to cut the lead to six points and had the ball back with plenty of time to win it before a couple of errant heaves effectively ended the comeback.
Rodgers found a jogging Greg Jennings more than open on an egregiously blown coverage by the Vikings for a 79-yard touchdown on the second play of the second half, giving the Packers their first lead at 20-17.
Green Bay has quite the grip on the NFL right now, after hitting stride last winter and winning the Super Bowl as a remarkably confident wild-card team. The Packers haven’t slowed done one bit this fall, with Rodgers and his rocket right arm leading the reign.
The Vikings have struggled in the secondary at full strength, and they weren’t even close to that. Safety Jamarca Sanford was recovering from a concussion. Antoine Winfield was still on the sideline with a stiff neck, and fellow cornerback Chris Cook — their best player in pass coverage — was not even at the stadium. He was in the county jail, for an alleged domestic assault.
The rest of the Vikings were in the building, but they’re just not in Green Bay’s league this year. This usually tight rivalry has been this one-sided in decades.
The Packers won for the eighth time in the last 11 meetings, and the common denominator there, of course, is Rodgers.
He’s connecting on roughly seven of every 10 passes, and many of those rare incompletions have been drops by his otherwise-stellar receivers. Rookie Randall Cobb was wide open on a drag route across the middle on third-and-16 at the 20, but the pass from Rodgers glanced off his hands and the Packers settled for three points.
Yes, Jared Allen tacked two sacks on his NFL-leading total to give him 11 1/2, but Rodgers spread the ball around to just about every receiver and made a perfect throw to just about every spot on the field. He went 6 for 6 on his first drive, firing passes to six different players during a ho-hum 91-yard march for the tying score.
The only three incompletions he threw in the first half? Two drops and a spike to stop the clock.
To keep this game competitive, the Vikings needed a timely turnover or two, and the rookie Cobb gave them one at the end of the first quarter when he fumbled a fair catch with teammate M.D. Jennings getting in his way. The Vikings recovered at midfield and scored a few minutes later to make it 14-7.
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