Destroyed by Aaron Rodgers, young cornerbacks' play rankles veterans
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MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings kept their starting right cornerback a mystery until kickoff on Sunday afternoon.
In the end, it didn't matter.
Chris Cook and Asher Allen both gave up multiple big plays in a 31-3 loss to the Green Bay Packers, leading to a heated exchange between Cook and end Ray Edwards on the sideline and several pointed remarks in the locker room afterward.
"You saw what was going on -- we had (Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers) running all over the field," defensive tackle Kevin Williams said. "He drops back and throws it down the sideline. We've got to make some plays on the ball. That's the bottom line. They made the plays (and) we didn't."
It started in the second quarter, shortly after Cook -- the rookie making his second start in the base defense after battling multiple knee injuries -- sat out a couple of plays and was seen stretching on the sideline.
On third-and-9 from the Green Bay 23, receiver Greg Jennings ran a go up the right sideline against Cook and made a bobbling catch for 47 yards to set up the Packers' tying field goal. On the Packers' next possession, James Jones ran an almost identical route and beat Cook for 39 yards, setting up Jennings' 11-yard touchdown catch two plays later.
"It's a man-versus-man game, and somewhere, you've got to be able to man up and defend," coach Brad Childress said. "You know what? They're going to win their share. You just want to win your share, whether it's third-and-short, whether it's third-and-10. We can't play two-deep all day long, and they're looking for go balls. They're very good at it and they're looking for it and they're obviously very capable of completing those."
Cook's day on defense came to an end on the next possession, when he failed to get his head around on Jones' 3-yard touchdown fade moments after getting run over at the end of a 15-yard catch-and-run by Brandon Jackson.
"We put in the work," said Cook, who indicated his knees weren't a problem. "They out-executed us and they left with a win."
A halftime switch to Allen -- who had begun the game as the third cornerback in the nickel defense -- didn't do any good. Jennings caught a first-down pass on a stop route around the Vikings' 35-yard line, then made Allen miss and raced 46 yards for a touchdown that extended the Packers' lead to 24-3.
It was after that play that Edwards lit into the young cornerbacks in the bench area, exchanging words with Cook at one point before defensive line coach Karl Dunbar led Edwards away.
"I just went up there to try to light a fire under him," Edwards said. "I really didn't look too much into his eyes. I just wanted him to step up and make plays. That's it. Everybody do your job."
Cook refused to talk about the incident, saying "that's inside team walls."
The Packers put away the game early in the fourth quarter, when Donald Driver caught an 8-yard stop against Frank Walker -- who had replaced Allen in the nickel -- for a third-and-7 conversion and Jennings beat Allen one more time on a go for a 22-yard score.
"Quarterbacks and offensive coordinators are very smart -- they're going to go after the young guys," cornerback Antoine Winfield said. "So, this gives young guys chances to make names for themselves. Either you're going to crumble under the pressure or you're going to stand up and hold your own, and we just didn't do that (Sunday)."
The Vikings sacked Rodgers three times -- Edwards twice and Jared Allen once -- and officially hit him four as the Packers employed mostly five-man protections to spread the field and set up those one-on-one matchups. It was an improvement from the first matchup on Oct. 24, when Rodgers wasn't sacked and was hit only three times.
But the corner vacated by Cedric Griffin's second consecutive season-ending knee injury once again was Rodgers' opening to attack, and just like in the first meeting, the game ended with Rodgers posting big numbers and Cook on the bench.
Rodgers finished 22-of-31 passing for 301 yards, four touchdowns and a sterling 141.3 passer rating. The closest he came to making a costly mistake was one play before Jennings' first touchdown, when Rodgers had a miscommunication with Jennings on a slant and safety Husain Abdullah couldn't hang onto a would-be interception.
"All week we harped about how we needed to disrupt Rodgers, and I thought we did a good job," Jared Allen said. "We got him on the ground three times, had him running for his life a few others. Again, they found something that was working for them, and they capitalized. They were making plays on the ball."