Love, Packers take control of playoff spot as they cruise past Vikings
Love threw three touchdown passes and ran for a score to put the Packers in control of a spot in the playoffs with a 33-10 victory Sunday after the Vikings benched another turnover-prone quarterback.
Jones rushed for 120 yards and Jayden Reed had two touchdown catches for the Packers (8-8), who can get the NFC's last wild-card spot by beating Chicago at home next week. Seattle's loss earlier in the day allowed them to climb above the cut.
“At the beginning of the season everybody tried to count us out. In the middle of the season everybody tried to count us out,” Jones said. “I think that speaks to a lot of these guys in this locker room, tuning out the noise and just getting to work.”
Love went 24 for 33 for 256 yards in what was surely the finest game of his first year as the starter in the post-Aaron Rodgers era.
“He’s playing at an incredibly high level. I’m super happy for him, because he’s put in a ton of work to get to this point,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “I really think the sky is the limit for us. He’s just showing a glimpse of what he can ultimately be.”
Last season, Rodgers and the Packers lost a win-and-in finale at home to Detroit and missed the playoffs.
“It’s an awesome vibe in the locker room, but at the same time everyone’s focused on what we’ve got in front of us,” Love said.
The Vikings (7-9) watched an interception and a fumble by Jaren Hall in the first half were converted into touchdowns by the Packers. Nick Mullens took over for Hall for the second half, the fifth time the Vikings have switched quarterbacks since Kirk Cousins tore his Achilles tendon in the fourth quarter of a 24-10 win at Green Bay on Oct. 29.
Detroit clinched the NFC North by beating Minnesota here last week, marking just the second time in 13 seasons the division wasn't won by either the Packers or the Vikings, but a prime-time game between these border-state rivals always generates plenty of energy in the stadium.
Cousins got the party off to a rowdy start when he — wearing a thick gold chain around his neck — and his son ripped off their shirts to lead the crowd in the “Skol!” chant and blow the Gjallarhorn. “Go Pack Go!” serenades soon joined the soundtrack, though, and this became quite a New Year’s Eve blowout.
Love was flustered two months ago by the Vikings defense, but despite his penchant for overthrows he has come a long way. The abundant optimism the Packers have for the future is missing in Minnesota with Cousins set to become a free agent and no clarity about a potential return or replacement.
Hall, who was the first reliever for Cousins two months ago only to be forced out of his first start with a concussion, hardly had any time to throw. Green Bay's defense that was shredded over the last three games by the Giants, Buccaneers and Panthers — and now missing starting cornerbacks Jaire Alexander ( suspension ) and Eric Stokes ( hamstring ) — took full advantage of the rookie from BYU.
Hall’s off-target throw in the first quarter glanced off the hands of Johnny Mundt — in an elevated role after the season-ending knee injury to Pro Bowl tight end T.J. Hockenson — and in the air to Corey Ballentine for an interception. Love’s 33-yard touchdown pass to Reed came two plays later.
“I just didn't do them any favors,” Hall said.
Preston Smith’s strip-sack of Hall with 26 seconds left before halftime sealed the deal. Karl Brooks recovered at the Minnesota 37, and the Love-to-Reed connection got Green Bay in the end zone three plays after that for a 23-3 lead.
Vikings coach Kevin O'Connell said he told the players afterward, “I wasn't good enough for us.”
REED IS BOOKING IT
Reed has 10 touchdown catches this season. The second-round draft pick from Michigan State set the franchise rookie record with 60 receptions, passing Sterling Sharpe (1988).
Both of Reed’s scores belong on the highlight reel. Love did the work on the first one with the prettiest pass of the game to hit Reed in stride on a post route. Reed did the heavy lifting on the second one by dodging two tacklers after the catch and dragging another defender into the end zone.
Reed hurt his chest on that play and didn’t return for the second half. With Christian Watson and Dontayvion Wicks already sidelined, the Packers are banged up at wide receiver after Samori Toure also left the game. Reed was taken for additional tests after he was hurt.
“Hopefully he'll be all right for next week,” LaFleur said. “I know if there's anybody who can get through it, it's him.”
Packers: LB Isaiah McDuffie (concussion) was carted off in the second quarter when he collided with Lukas Van Ness and Colby Wooden during a sack. McDuffie started in place of De’Vondre Campbell (neck), who missed his second consecutive game.
Vikings: RG Ed Ingram (shoulder) left in the third quarter. ... CB Byron Murphy (knee) was sidelined for the second straight game.
Packers: Host Chicago next Sunday.
Vikings: At Detroit next Sunday.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL