The Vikings enter Lambeau Field having won four of the last five games against the Packers. That hasnt happened for the purple and gold since the 1992-1994 seasons, Brett Favres first years for the green and yellow.
So, cornerback Xavier Rhodes and the Vikings reigning No. 1 defense should walk onto the field Sunday afternoon with the swagger befitting two-time NFC North champions in the past three years, right?
No, we dont think that, Rhodes said Wednesday, as relaxed as hell be this week sitting in the players lounge inside TCO Performance Center. These guys are still a tough opponent very tough. I mean, Im going to keep bringing it up. Did you see what he did Sunday night? Cmon now.
He is Aaron Rodgers. And what Rodgers did was throw three fourth-quarter touchdown passes to erase a 17-point deficit and lead the Packers 24-23 comeback victory over the Bears on Sunday night.
Further baffling Rhodes were Rodgers throws while on a sprained left knee, which limited his ability to step through deeper passes.
Fact [is] he cant move, and hes still accurate on the throws, Rhodes said. Hes throwing basically on one foot. The go- ball he threw to Geronimo [Allison] in the back of the end zone, it was a dime a perfect pass.
Then Rhodes watched the 12-yard touchdown to Davante Adams, whom hell likely shadow this Sunday. Rhodes had only one reaction when Randall Cobb took a short grab for a 75-yard touchdown to put the Packers ahead.
I mean, come on with these guys, Rhodes said.
Thats why there was no debate in Rhodes mind when he recently ranked Rodgers as the No. 1 player in the NFC North for a Players Tribune article. He ranked defensive end Everson Griffen sixth, himself fourth and safety Harrison Smith third. The top two: Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and Rodgers, whom Rhodes compared to the bullet-curving assassins in the movie Wanted due to how Rodgers can seemingly sling passes around defenders.
I said all that before that [Bears] game was played, Rhodes said. So, yeah, the man is amazing.
So, too, is the Vikings defense. Since the Vikings 4-1 run against the Packers started at the end of the 2015 season, theyve had the luxury of only playing three full games against Rodgers. The quarterback missed all but four throws of the Vikings-Packers rivalry last year after linebacker Anthony Barrs hit broke his collarbone.
The other three matchups, when Rodgers played, contained both dreams and a nightmare for Rhodes.
First came the 2015 division-clinching win at Lambeau Field. The Packers trailed 20-13 late in the fourth quarter when Rodgers began his march. Rhodes knows it all too well.
Once theyre behind, they hit a switch and start clicking and its just boom, boom, boom, Rhodes said. Theyre more precise, more accurate.
That was the case until fourth-and-13 in the red zone, when Rodgers stepped up to avoid pressure and heaved an end-zone hope to receiver James Jones. Rhodes came down with his second career interception; this one for a NFC North crown.
That was probably my best, Rhodes said.
The nightmare came a year later in Green Bay. By halftime, Rodgers threw for 268 yards and four total touchdowns to start the Vikings 38-25 loss. It was the first time coach Mike Zimmer wanted Rhodes to shadow a Packers receiver (Jordy Nelson). The players, Rhodes said afterward, didnt execute that game plan initially, but their issues were much greater than the brief defiance.
I dont know, it was just a bad day for us. Really bad, Rhodes said. Jordy Nelson was getting open. Aaron Rodgers was doing what he does, finding the open guy. Their offense was clicking. It was a lot of errors in our defense.
Come Sunday, the Vikings defense is expecting to face its toughest opponent while at the peak of their own powers even if Rodgers, who didnt practice Wednesday, isnt in full health.
You never know with Aaron, Rhodes said.