GREEN BAY — Through sixteen minutes of football at Lambeau Field on Sunday afternoon, the Green Bay Packers looked like a juggernaut. Over the final 44 minutes, the Packers played only slightly better than one of the teams hoping to draft No. 1 overall. And — to paraphrase Denny Green — the Minnesota Vikings let them off the hook in a 21-16 defeat.
“Disappointing loss today,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “We didn’t start out very well defensively, 21-point deficit to start the game. We fought hard but we didn’t play well enough to win.”
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers received the opening kickoff immediately hit Davante Adams for a 39-yard pass. Seconds later they were in the end zone, going 75 yards for a touchdown in just 2:10. Following a Vikings missed field goal, they did it again, driving 63 yards for another TD pass by Rodgers, this time picking on the Vikings’ depth at defensive back, tossing the ball easily over recently-elevated safety Nate Meadors.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins then fumbled twice on the same drive, setting up Rodgers and the Packers at the Minnesota 33-yard line. That drive ended as quickly as the first and with the same result.
Before Packers fans were even inside the building from their morning tailgating efforts, it was a three-score game.
And then Green Bay did absolutely everything imaginable to give the game back to the Vikings.
The Packers immediately gave up a 75-yard touchdown run to Dalvin Cook, who made the Green Bay defense look like the Arizona Cardinals’ reserves in preseason. Then Green Bay fumbled in Minnesota territory.
But Cousins gave them another shot with an interception on a throw into quadruple coverage.
Still up 21-7 just before halftime, the Packers had an opportunity to put a nail in the Vikings’ coffin. After failing on third-and-1, Rodgers ran his offense back up to the line of scrimmage and handed the ball to Aaron Jones, who was stuffed by Linval Joseph — as everyone over the last five years has been when they run up the middle in short yardage situations.
The Vikings took advantage, driving downfield for a touchdown to chop the lead to seven points — or so it seemed. The referees received word that the play needed to be reviewed and after an outrageously long look at the play, they determined Cook had interfered with a defender and the touchdown was nullified. The Vikings instead made it 21-10.
Coming out of the half, the Packers fumbled again, this time on a botched snap.
Despite a tremendously weak offensive pass interference call against Adam Thielen, the Vikings hit on a shot play to Stefon Diggs for a 42-yard touchdown
Of course, Diggs ripped off his helmet for a penalty, pushing the extra point back to the 48-yard line. The kick was blocked.
“We had some dumb penalties today and the penalty after the touchdown, just selfish,” Zimmer said.
Green Bay then went ultra conservative, hoping that the running game could find holes in the Vikings defense. It did not and four straight drives ended with punts.
But Kirk Cousins still very much being Kirk Cousins, he could not take advantage of the gracious gifts handed to him by Matt LaFleur and Green Bay.
Cook and Alexander Mattison plowed the Packers down the field, putting the Vikings in scoring position, just close enough to the end zone for Cousins to make a tremendously bad decision. Rolling away from pressure on first down, he heaved the ball into double coverage and cornerback Kevin King grabbed it for an interception.
Still Green Bay stayed colder than Lambeau in December on offense going three-and-out following the pick and the Vikings once again declined to accept the chance to win. Cousins overthrew a receiver on third-and-7 and the Vikings punted.
“I had a lot of plays that did not get made, that got left out there,” Cousins said. “I think that’s why it’s extra frustrating. If you lose but you feel like you put your best foot forward and did all you could, you could certainly look at that silver lining. Today it felt like there were too many plays that were there to be made that weren’t made.”
The Vikings’ loss in Green Bay had a little bit of everything — bad calls, missed kicks, turnovers, big plays and inexplicable decisions. Ultimately Cousins and the offense were given every chance to overcome the bad start and pull off a remarkable comeback. Instead another big game in the Cousins era ends with regret and missed opportunities.
“These games are their own entity, so this one is over and as frustrating as it was, it doesn’t bleed into next week,” Cousins said. “We won’t start at a deficit, it’s 0-0…you’ve got to go back out and certainly correct the mistakes and make sure they don’t become more of a pattern.”