MINNEAPOLIS – The Vikings defense said, "Nope."
In the second quarter of Sunday's Border Battle, Green Bay opted to go for it on fourth down from the Minnesota 1. Aaron Rodgers handed off to running back AJ Dillon, who ran up the middle and immediately was stuffed by Harrison Phillips and Za'Darius Smith.
No gain, Vikings ball.
It's always a bit risky for a defensive lineman to guess the snap count, but Phillips said it was worth the risk from that point on the field – being that an offsides penalty would cost them half a yard – and it certainly paid off.
"You're going to lose a little [yardage] if you guess wrong, but if you guess right, it could be a big play," Phillips told reporters postgame.
He credited Vikings safety Harrison Smith for making stops on second and third down that set Minnesota up for a fourth-down stop.
"We'll defend a blade of grass if we can," Phillips said. "And then [Defensive Coordinator Ed] Donatell calling the defense today, he kind of put the ball in my hand a little bit to go make a play, and I was thankful I was able to do that.
"Eric Kendricks came down really fast and helped hold the double team off, so I kind of got to defeat the one block and was there on a pretty big running back, so you've got to put all your weight on him, but that was fun for sure," Phillips added.
The goal-line stand was just one defensive highlight of Minnesota’s 23-7 defeat of Green Bay Sunday. Heck, it wasn't even the only fourth-down stop.
Kendricks starred in the Vikings second execution on fourth-and-1.
Late in the fourth quarter, Rodgers threw a pass over the middle to Robert Tonyan; Kendricks leapt up, extended his arm and then his fingertips, and knocked the ball out of the air and away from the tight end. The play effectively sealed a win for Minnesota to kick off its 2022 season.
The Vikings didn't allow the Packers to score until 10 minutes into the third quarter, when Dillon did get into the end zone for Green Bay's lone touchdown.
"It would have been great to pitch a shutout," Phillips said. "They came out [of halftime] and had a whole different game plan. When we saw the next drive, we were able to shut it down, but that surprised us at first and is something we need to work on, being able to make adjustments mid-drive.
"You've got to win the division and you've got to win at home, so this was a very important game to win," he added. "Not to say it's the end-all, be-all must-win. No game is, but to get a win against a divisional opponent and at home, that's a good one."
The Vikings entered Sunday's game knowing that pressuring Rodgers was imperative to having success.
Challenge accepted, even if it helped that Green Bay was without starting offensive linemen David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins.
Minnesota's defensive players constantly turned the heat on Rodgers, creating movement around his feet and forcing the quarterback to get the ball out as quickly as possible.
Za'Darius Smith especially played a big role in rattling his former teammate.
With just over two minutes remaining in the first quarter, Smith sniffed out Rodgers on third-and-8, taking the All-Pro passer down for a loss of 8. Smith celebrated with a belly crawl away from Rodgers.
"I just wanted to do my dog crawl. I haven't done it in a while," said Smith, who missed last season due to injury.
The Vikings moved Smith around on the field, which posed a tough challenge for Green Bay.
"I grew up [playing] basketball, so I got that 'uh-uh' – (stutter-steps) – when I get a chance to shake somebody," Smith laughed. "But I can do that all up and down the line – the center, the guard, the tackles. It doesn't matter. I'm just glad I get a chance to use my ability to help this team win football games."
Packers Head Coach Matt LaFleur talked postgame about the "tremendous impact" Smith made against his former team.
If anyone knew what Smith was capable of, it was the Packers – but they still found themselves struggling against them.
"We knew 'Z' was going to be amped up and ready to go, and he's a great player. We got to witness that firsthand for a couple years," LaFleur said. "He's a guy that you've got to account for on every play, and it does make it tough when there's two creatures out there that are pretty good."
The other "creature" referenced by LaFleur, of course, is Vikings outside linebacker Danielle Hunter, who on Sunday played in his first regular-season game since last October.
Hunter also recorded a sack of Rodgers, for a 9-yard loss, and totaled three tackles, a quarterback hit and a pass defensed.
"[Rodgers] was definitely getting the ball out early, but we just had to keep chopping wood," Hunter said. "That's what pass rush is all about. Keep chopping wood, and eventually you get there."
D.J. Wonnum and Jordan Hicks had the other two sacks of Rodgers.
Hicks' takedown marked his first in Purple after signing with the Vikings in free agency. He and Smith pressured Rodgers, and Hicks managed to dislodge the ball, which Dalvin Tomlinson scooped up.
"We're just playing together. This defense is built on overlap and playing together and good communication and reading your keys, and that's what we do," said Hicks, who led Minnesota with 14 tackles. "We've got guys that make plays downfield, and I think Aaron was trying to get a couple of big chunks, and he was holding onto the ball.
"[When] you've got an opportunity to go make a play you've got to make it, and that's what we were able to do tonight," he added.
The Vikings sacked Rodgers four times, but that's not all. Harrison Smith also grabbed his sixth career interception against the Packers (second of Rodgers, who rarely throws a pick).
The play happened just before halftime, when Rodgers launched one deep to Randall Cobb. Smith matched the receiver stride for stride and timed his jump perfectly to make the catch.
Tackles and turnovers and takeaways, oh my.
Cornerback Patrick Peterson said he's not at all surprised by the defense's disruption of Rodgers and Co.
"We've got a lot of veterans here that understand this game and have played in a lot of big-time games. When we're at practice, we get after it. Every practice is a game for us," Peterson said. "We knew we weren't going to play any preseason games, so we knew we had to take that process very seriously.
"As you see, no one tapped out. No one was getting tired," Peterson added. "Everybody was in great shape and looking forward to the next play."
Rodgers finished the night 22-of-34 passing for 195 yards, no touchdowns and the pick by Smith. Of his 213 games for Green Bay, only 15 games have produced lower passer ratings than Sunday's 67.6.
View postgame celebration photos from the Vikings season opener win over the Packers on Sept. 11 at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Rodgers' longest pass of the night was a 25-yarder to Christian Watson; Green Bay's longest play overall was a 29-yard run by Aaron Jones.
"Give them credit, they had a great scheme," LaFleur said. "They weren't going to try to give up big plays. They definitely kept a lid on top of us for the most part, and when you do that and you're trying to throw some big-time plays, that allows, sometimes, the pass rushers to hit home."
The Vikings know they've got to have a short memory. They'll celebrate this one for just a short bit before turning the page Monday afternoon to the Eagles, whom they'll face next week on Monday Night Football.
"We had no idea what was actually going to be put out there on the field performance-wise," Hicks said. "You had a feeling of where we were going and the energy in the building, but until you're out there, you have no idea.
"We have something to look back on; we have something to learn from," Hicks added. "We have something to look forward to, because ultimately it was a good enough performance to win – and I think if we continue to do what we put out there on the field, we'll have a chance to win most of our games."