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Action Reaction: Empty Stadium Neutralizes Home-field Advantage

MINNEAPOLIS — U.S. Bank Stadium has been one of the best home-field advantages in the NFL since opening in 2016.

The Vikings were 23-9 through the venue's first four regular seasons and won their only home postseason game in that span.

Minnesota entered Sunday's game having recorded an NFL-best 104 sacks in home games since 2016, feeding off the raucous crowd noise, particularly on third downs and putting quarterbacks in pressure cookers. 

Instead of a frenzied mass doing the SKOL Chant, which was introduced when Minnesota hosted Green Bay in Week 2 of the 2016 in U.S. Bank Stadium's inaugural game, the fan-less atmosphere Sunday was flat, with a consistent NFL-mandated monotone recording of crowd noise.

Breaks between action were often eerily silent.

Pre-game question: How would the lack of fans affect both teams?

While the environment was the same for both teams, any thought of a home-field advantage was neutralized.

The Vikings were on their home turf, but the Packers played the game on their terms.

In-game action:

Aaron Rodgers opened his 16th NFL season by playing comfortable games of pitch-and-catch to move the chains and take opportunistic deep shots against a Vikings defense that was without two-time Pro Bowler Danielle Hunter and playing with three new starters in the secondary (two at corner and one at nickel).

The Vikings started Ifeadi Odenigbo and Jalyn Holmes and rotated in newcomer Yannick Ngakoue (acquired Aug. 30 via trade with Jacksonville) and Eddie Yarbrough. Odenigbo was able to force a grounding penalty on a third-and-10 from the Minnesota 12, but the Vikings didn't sack Rodgers a single time.

The only other time during Head Coach Mike Zimmer's tenure that the Vikings had not recorded at least one sack of Rodgers was in 2017 when he left the game early with an injury. Minnesota had recorded multiple sacks of Rodgers in nine of the 10 other games when led by Zimmer.

Press box statisticians credited the Vikings with just two quarterback hits of Rodgers, who completed 32 of 44 passes for 364 yards and four touchdowns.

The Packers meanwhile recorded four hits and two sacks — one that resulted in a pivotal safety — of Kirk Cousins, who finished 19-of-25 passing for 259 yards with a pair of touchdowns to Adam Thielen. Cousins avoided pressure and connected with Thielen for a gain of 25 on Minnesota's second snap of the game. He scrambled four times for 34 yards on the ground.

Rodgers also was able to use his hard count to force penalties on two third downs, earning new sets of downs, and a third was a free play on which he connected with Marquez Valdes-Scantling for a 39-yarder near the end of the third quarter.

Postgame reaction:

"I know we gave up some big plays. [I'm] probably more upset about the jumping offsides on third downs. We know Rodgers is a hard-count guy. Probably wouldn't happen if we have fans in the stands, but that's no excuse. And we let him out of the pocket. We know when he gets out of the pocket that bad things happen."

— Zimmer

"I think the down time [is when] you're more aware of [the lack of fans] because there's just less going on. So when you have TV timeouts, the 2-minute warning, the other team's on the field, you notice yourself waiting, I guess, I little bit more. Other than that, it's just a communication piece where you have to keep your voice down and try not to give away too much as you're calling plays, giving signals, because obviously your opponent can hear much easier." 

— Cousins

"It's obviously not ideal, but both teams are dealing with it. There's no excuse because it's the same for both sides, and it's going to be like that. So we knew that coming into the game that it's going to be a lot different, that there's not going to be those jitters maybe you get from fans and the energy. There's just not going to be that. So we've got to create our own energy. How do you do that? You make plays. I mean, that's what they did. That keeps their sideline amped up. That keeps them going, and that goes for all three phases, special teams, defense and offense. You've got to make some big plays to create momentum, to create some excitement, especially now with no fans."

— Thielen

"Got me today. Got a couple guys. His hard count is very convincing. He's one of the best in the league at it. You just got to be disciplined, got to hold your water, got to look at the ball as much as you can when you're in that position and not jump and put your team in some tough situations."

— Anthony Barr

"You've got to know coming in that he's the best at that. It's one thing to talk about it, but we've got to take it out on the field. That's on us. … I've seen us jump offside plenty of times with a crowd. Maybe you can hear him a little clearer without the crowd — not maybe, definitely. Maybe that's true. It was strange but it's strange for them too. I don't think it should matter to us. We should play our ball no matter what and we didn't. Not going to use that as an excuse."

— Harrison Smith