MINNEAPOLIS – Early in the fourth quarter, after Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers hung their fourth touchdown on the reeling Minnesota Vikings defense in five possessions, television cameras panned to star defensive end Jared Allen on the sideline.
"This is the worst defense I've ever played on in my life," Allen was caught saying to guard Charlie Johnson.
A season-long slide on that side of the ball reached a new low Sunday night when Rodgers and the Packers torched the Vikings in a 44-31 victory.
Rodgers threw for 285 yards and two touchdowns and the Packers (5-2) scored five touchdowns and two field goals on their first eight offensive possessions of the game. The Vikings (1-6) didn't force a punt or a turnover and the only thing that stopped the Packers offense was the clock when Rodgers kneeled down in the closing seconds.
"I'm embarrassed I have to keep saying it," said Allen, who did not register a sack or a tackle. "I'm trying to be as honest as I can with you guys. I don't know what to say. I've never been a part of something like this."
Cordarrelle Patterson set an NFL record with a 109-yard return on the opening kickoff for Minnesota, and Adrian Peterson rushed for 60 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.
But with a defense that was powerless to stop the Packers, they didn't have a chance.
The Packers had two scoring drives of 15 plays, held the ball for a staggering 40:56 and ran 73 plays to Minnesota's 43. Green Bay was 13 for 18 on third downs and 2 for 2 on fourth downs, with Packers coach Mike McCarthy showing supreme confidence in Rodgers, even without three of his top targets — Jermichael Finley, James Jones and Randall Cobb — who were out with injuries.
"I couldn't tell you what's going on," Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway said. "Every week it's a little something different. It's a little bit of something here, people making plays, finding exits and scrambles. They found ways to make plays."
And in their precious few opportunities, the Vikings offense couldn't match them. Christian Ponder, who started for the injured Josh Freeman, was shaky again in his return to the starting quarterback job, completing 14 of 21 passes for 145 yards, many of which came in garbage time. The offense couldn't sustain drives and couldn't get Peterson going on the ground, failing to capitalize on the momentum that Patterson provided on the opening kick.
Patterson nearly stepped out of the back of the end zone while fielding the opening kickoff, then flew straight up the gut and went untouched to light up the dome. Micah Hyde was the only Packer to have a chance at bringing down Patterson, but he missed him, and the speedy rookie easily got the corner on Tim Masthay to go the distance.
Three players had 108-yard returns, the most recent being Baltimore's Jacoby Jones against Dallas last season. It also tied the record for longest play in NFL history, matching the 109-yard touchdown return of a missed field goal by Antonio Cromartie for San Diego against the Vikings in the Metrodome in 2007.
Rodgers responded with a 15-play drive that culminated in a perfectly lofted pass to Jordy Nelson in the back of the end zone to tie the game. Rodgers also connected with Nelson on a 76-yard scoring pass, Hyde returned a punt 93 yards for a score and Eddie Lacy rushed for 94 yards and a touchdown.
"It's hard to play good defense if you're not doing better on third down that what we are right now," Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier said. "We were doing some good things in the first half against the run game but couldn't get off the field on third down to end some drives. We've got to figure out some things to help the guys that are on the field to make some plays."
The Vikings have been blown out now in three straight weeks, and the team's leaders are searching for answers and trying to hold things together.
"If we start cracking, then the rest of the team will start cracking as well," Peterson said. "So, stay positive as possible and just continue to work."
NOTES: Frazier said the coaches would meet to discuss who will start at QB next week against Dallas. ... Vikings WR Greg Jennings had one catch for 9 yards in his first game against the Packers, the team he spent the first seven years of his career with. ... Ponder scored on a 19-yard run late in the fourth quarter.
AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org