GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - As 36-year-old Aaron Rodgers approaches his 23rd start against the Vikings, the game is more cerebral than ever. And against a tantalizingly tough defense, he's going to rely on his finely-tuned football senses Monday night.
“I think for any player, the first key is to lock in the subconscious,” Rodgers said. “So the subconscious is our natural reaction to situations, that's the muscle memory. The step past that is to get into your conscious mind. And the conscious mind is the ability to react in real time, sometimes opposite of what your subconscious tells you to do.”
Turning back the clock to review the Packers' first match-up with Minnesota, you'll notice a startlingly similar story to last week's win over the Bears. Back in Week 2, Green Bay had the Vikings on the ropes up 21-0 just more than a quarter into the game. But the Packers had to survive with a defensive stand in the South end zone.
And while Minnesota didn't complete that comeback, they did come back from 20-0 down at the half to Denver just a few weeks ago. Pulling off a 1-quarter offensive effort likely won't get a win Monday.
“Last time we did get off to a pretty good start, then had a fumble, and just got out of whack there,” said coach Matt LaFleur. “We are going to have to be on top of our game on every play. We have to play each play as its own entity. And we need great focus and concentration and great effort on every play to have any success against that defense.”
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer leads that defense, and Thursday morning proclaimed that either or he or Aaron Rodgers needs to leave the NFC North at some point because: "It's too hard. He's too good!"
“You tell him to retire,” Rodgers said.
In some ways, this is a something-has-got-to-give bowl with a lot on the line. Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins is 0-8 on Monday Night Football, but the Packers are 0-3 in US Bank Stadium. So, what gives?
“That means we are due,” Rodgers said. “We are due. We have won in Minnesota over the years. We have won in two stadiums. It would be nice to make it three. We are in the playoffs, so that is the first exciting part. But that is not the goal. You play the game for moments like these. To go on the road in a hostile environment and have a chance to lock up the North.”
“It’s Monday night and there is so much at stake,” LaFleur said. “We know it is going to be extremely hectic. I think, more than anything, our guys have to lock in. We are going to pump the crowd noise today and create as chaotic environment in our preparations as we can.”
In their preparations, the Packers will practice ball security as they always do. Green Bay ranks #1 in the NFC in turnover margin. But, the Vikings forced 7 turnovers last week.
“The ball is the game,” said receiver Davante Adams. “That's the way we look at it. That's why we try our best to take care of that thing. They are after the ball. Obviously they have done a good job this year of taking it away and we have done a good job taking care of it. We just have to keep up with that.”
This week's game is as big as a playoff game. A win, in all likelihood, allows the Packers to skip the Wild Card round and have a home date on Divisional weekend. A loss? Just the opposite. Probably play a wild card game and then with a win have to head on the road to the Saints' Superdome, which is a very tough place to play.