MINNEAPOLIS -- There were still plenty of green jerseys with number 12 on them headed into U.S. Bank Stadium on a sunny, chilly, windy Sunday morning. The horde of transplants from the east who have taken up residence in Minnesota, like an invading army, is still fiercely loyal to all things Green Bay Packers.
But two or three years ago the jerseys worn by the thousands of Packers fans in enemy territory would have been 90% Aaron Rodgers replicas. There was a subtle change evident on this particular Sunday. Fans repping Davante Adams (17), Mason Crosby (2), Aaron Jones (33), Clay Matthews (52) and even Brett Favre (4) were seen in larger-than-normal numbers.
With all of the off-field detritus that has been a part of the Rodgers experience in 2021 -- Hawaiian vacations, game show guest host gigs, long-term holdouts, the fake “immunization” that caused him to miss a critical game -- there is an expectation among many that he will be moving on at season’s end. And one could sense a subtle feeling that a segment of Packer fans are ready to move on from him.
Vikings fans get it. They’ve been there. In the past two decades, two of the NFL’s all-time offensive superstars -- Hall of Fame wide receiver Randy Moss and future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson -- have worn purple and gold. In both cases, due to off-field incidents and attitudes, it felt like high time for both to leave by the time they moved on. Moss even moved on twice.
During a win in Chicago last month, Rodgers taunted Bears fans, claiming ownership of the Packers’ primary historical rivalry. Versus the Vikings in his career, Rodgers has something more like a long-term lease. After Sunday's 34-31 loss, he now has a 15-10-1 mark as a starter versus Minnesota. Although famously he started but did not finish a game in Minnesota four years ago.
One of the more serious injuries in Rodgers’ career came in October 2017 at U.S. Bank Stadium, when he was thrown to the turf by Vikings defender Anthony Barr -- a play that would be called roughing the passer under the NFL’s new rules, designed to protect players like Rodgers -- and suffered a broken collarbone and missed more than half the season.
Fans of both teams got to see some classic Rodgers on Sunday, good and bad. On the first play from scrimmage he torched the Minnesota defense with a 37-yard pass play. On the next play, which was an incomplete pass, Rodgers lobbied hard and unsuccessfully for a penalty. The Packers’ first drive ended with a long field goal, one play after Rodgers overthrew a receiver and walked off the field with that look of bewildered disgust that has become a kind of trademark.
"The first drive of the game, to go out and get seven would've been great. I hit (Adams) on a crossing route which turned into a 40-yard gain to get us going," Rodgers recalled. "We came back and it looked like there was (pass interference) on them which would've been a 10-yard gain. We had to settle for a 54-yard field goal. That was definitely frustrating."
The first half ended with Rodgers’ heir apparent, Jordan Love, taking a knee with 10 seconds left as the veteran starter had already gone to the locker room.
When he emerged in the second half, Rodgers did more typical things, namely leading a pair of long drives and finding Adams in the end zone, twice, giving the Packers a fourth quarter lead, after they trailed 16-3 at one point. In the waning minutes, he needed one 75-yard pass play to tie the game after the Vikings had re-established a lead.
In the end, it wasn’t enough. The Vikings won on a last-play field goal. Rodgers did all he could, going 23 of 33 with 385 yards passing, four touchdowns, no interceptions and a stellar 148.4 passer rating. He is now 2-4-0 all time in Minnesota’s new stadium.
"I appreciate the environment. We've had some back-and-forths over the years," Rodgers said of the afternoon in the Twin Cities. "It wasn't quite as loud today as in some of those past games. Maybe it was because there were a lot of Packer fans in here, which was awesome. The support was great."
Even if that support among Packers fans increasingly seems to be drifting to other players. If that was the last time Rodgers plays in downtown Minneapolis as the arch enemy, there was a general feeling -- among a large portion of both fan bases -- that they have seen enough.
(Note: This story has been updated to reflect that Rodgers claimed to be "immunized" from COVID when he had not been vaccinated.)