Zulgad: Vikings get a big assist from soon-to-be ex-Packers coach

MINNEAPOLIS — If Mike McCarthy wasn’t already a lame duck coach before Sunday night, he sealed his fate in the third quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium and in doing so did the Minnesota Vikings a tremendous favor.

With the score tied at 14 and the Packers facing a fourth-and-1 at their own 44-yard line, McCarthy took a timeout and then made the baffling decision to go for it against Mike Zimmer’s defense. Certainly McCarthy was going to call a play that would feature future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers because that was the only thing that would make sense.

McCarthy couldn’t be so dumb as to simply have Rodgers hand the ball to Aaron Jones, have Jones go up the middle and hope for the best, right? That’s exactly what the play call ended up being and when Jones was stopped by safety Harrison Smith not only was the play over, so was the game.

Consider it an early Christmas (and parting) gift from the Packers coach.¬†Minnesota’s defense might not be as good as it was a year ago, but running into the teeth of it is just plain stupid.

The Vikings had appeared desperate not to take control of the game — Dan Bailey did not help by missing two field-goal attempts in the first half — but they had no choice but to take the Packers gift and make the most of it.

“It was big,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said of the fourth-down stop. “Harrison made a great play. I think Danielle Hunter was big on the play as well. It was a big play in the game.”

Kirk Cousins completed a 13-yard pass to Dalvin Cook that put the ball on the Green Bay 31-yard line. Cousins then hit Stefon Diggs for a 5-yard gain before finding Adam Thielen for another 13 yards. The Vikings’ offense stalled after that with Cook losing 1 yard, and Cousins gaining 4 yards on a scramble before losing 9 yards on a sack by Kenny Clark.

But Zimmer, who had told NBC sideline reporter Michele Tafoya at halftime that he wouldn’t use Bailey on fourth down and instead would go for it, changed his mind and sent Bailey onto the field. The veteran kicker made a 37-yarder and the Vikings had a 17-14 lead and control of the game.

Thanks to¬†McCarthy the Vikings were on their way to a 24-17 victory that they desperately needed to keep a comfortable spot in the NFC playoff race. The Vikings (6-4-1) remained in the fifth seed in the conference and have a 71 percent chance to make the postseason, according to ESPN’s FPI. The Packers (4-6-1) dropped to the 10th seed.

The victory comes with the Vikings having back-to-back road games against New England and Seattle in the next two weeks.

The Packers won a Super Bowl with McCarthy as their coach — in large part because Rodgers was his QB — and he has had a lengthy run as their coach, having taken over the same year Brad Childress landed the Vikings job in 2006.

But clearly it’s time for the Packers to make a coaching change and, honestly, the Vikings are going to miss the inept decision-maker McCarthy has turned into. Want to know why Rodgers looks miserable and disgusted so often? All you have to do is watch McCarthy attempt to call plays for him.

As perplexing as it was that McCarthy decided to go for in it on fourth down when he did, it was equally as surprising that he did not go for it facing a fourth-and-4 from the Vikings 41 yard line with 3:04 left in the second quarter. The score was tied at 14 and Rodgers set up as if he was going to call a play but, instead, the Packers were called for a delay of game and Green Bay punted.

It was at that point that NBC put up a graphic about McCarthy’s decision-making in a three-point loss at Seattle a week earlier. Late in that game, McCarthy decided against going for it on fourth-and-2 and instead punted the ball to Seattle. The problem was Green Bay never got the ball back.

That decision received plenty of criticism and so should this one. The Vikings are in line to return to the postseason in large part because of an assist from McCarthy.

The Packers, meanwhile, are headed back to Green Bay to play out the remainder of the season and then begin a search for a competent coach who will give Rodgers an opportunity to again find success.

Rodgers and Green Bay fans likely will be thrilled when McCarthy is gone. The Vikings? They are going to miss him.