What we learned from the Vikings' 23-10 win over the Packers.

Packers
Image courtesy of Vikings.com
The Packers are a different team now.

It’s difficult to quantify exactly how important the loss of Aaron Rodgers is to the Packers, but I’ll attempt: it’s possibly the most impactful player injury that could happen in today’s NFL. Rodgers is indisputably one of the top two quarterbacks in football, and we’ve seen the coaching wizard in New England put together an 11-5 season without his golden boy under center, so something tells me this loss matters more than a theoretical injury to Tom Brady. Regardless, the gap between Rodgers/Brady and the rest of the NFL is significant and, somehow, seems to be growing. Aaron Rodgers is one of the best at the most important position in sports, and he may be done for the season.

So the Packers are different now. There will be coach speak and jock talk about “next man up,” but it’s hogwash. The loss of Rodgers is crippling to a team that is decidedly average across the rest of its roster and too often has relied on its magic-maker at quarterback to cover up other deficiencies. That approach is off the table now, and regardless of who’s under center in Green Bay, the Packers will be exposed for what they are. 

The team that was (rightly) predicted to win the NFC North by default will have to continue on without the reason everyone picked them. It’s a different team, and there’s no way around it. For the rest of the division, it’s a ripe opportunity, and while it’s unfortunate it took an injury to do it, such is the way of the world.

Relatedly, I did not enjoy seeing Rodgers get hurt — you’d rather beat them with him, as they say — but I find it difficult to conjure sympathy for the Packers. Remember, 2017 is the second consecutive season the Vikings have lost their starting quarterback, and combine that with a long line of other bad breaks at the position — some self-inflicted, some not — it has seemed almost inconceivable from this side of the border to see Green Bay blessed with 25 straight years of Favre and Rodgers with generally spotless health. Now they’ll have to see how the other half lives.

Austin predicted this.

Seriously. I have no idea what prompted it or why he even made the prediction, but VT“s own Austin Belisle predicted Aaron Rodgers would suffer a serious injury this season, back on September 6.

And in a sleeveless shirt nonetheless. I’ll admit I scoffed at the time, yet here we are. Confusing, and impressive, and even more reason to read “Belisle’s Burning Takes” each week.

The Vikings can win the division.

It was always possible, but the divisional door was kicked wide open with the NFC North’s best player being forced off the field Sunday. Case Keenum had another solid game, and we are seeing a formula — dominant defense, sound special teams, and balanced offense — that Minnesota can use to keep winning in 2017. At 4-2 and with the edge in a tiebreaker, they’re in the driver’s seat in the division, albeit at an early juncture. The NFC North is wide open and there’s no reason the Vikings can’t win it.

Laquon Treadwell can contribute?

With Stefon Diggs inactive, we knew we’d see more Treadwell Sunday. His stat line was modest — 3 catches for 51 yards — and there are still serious questions about whether or not he’ll ever live up to his draft position, but against the Packers, Laquon Treadwell looked like a functioning member of NFL society.

Plus, there was this gem.

Sometimes a player needs one big break, or one marquee moment, to gain confidence and springboard a more productive future. At my most optimistic, I hope this catch can be that moment for Treadwell. Chances are it won’t, but as frustrating as it’s been, we need to keep in mind it’s only his second year in the league and it’s not unreasonable to ask for more time to let him develop.

The block was legal.

Also on Treadwell: the block for which he was penalized was legal. Here’s the play:

  1. Forcibly hitting the defenseless player’s head or neck area with the helmet, facemask, forearm, or shoulder, even if the initial contact is lower than the player’s neck, and regardless of whether the defensive player also uses his arms to tackle the defenseless player by encircling or grasping him.
  2. Lowering the head and making forcible contact with the crown or ”hairline” parts of the helmet against any part of the defenseless player’s body.
  3. Illegally launching into a defenseless opponent. It is an illegal launch if a player (i) leaves both feet prior to contact to spring forward and upward into his opponent, and (ii) uses any part of his helmet to initiate forcible contact against any part of his opponent’s body. (This does not apply to contact against a runner, unless the runner is still considered to be a defenseless player, as defined in Article 7.)

The replay showed no helmet contact, just shoulder to chest; a safe, if punishing, hit. So numbers one and two of the rule are not satisfied, as they both deal with blows to the head/neck area and/or making contact with the helmet. And part three discusses launching, which the video shows Treadwell clearly didn’t do. So while the Packers defender did qualify as defenseless, Treadwell’s conduct did not match any of the behavior that the NFL deems prohibited in that situation, and thus he shouldn’t have been flagged.

There’s still room for contact in the NFL, I believe, and I have yet to see a rule interpretation that indicates a player is not allowed to block a defender because he’s looking a different direction. We should celebrate hard, clean blocks that avoid the head, and Treadwell’s falls into that category.

 

For a full recap of yesterday’s game plus a ton of other nuggets, check out Sean’s writeup from yesterday.