Disclaimer: What you’re about to read is a description of three moments that were key to determining the outcome of Sunday’s Vikings-Packers game. Were they the only three moments that mattered? No. Are there many other relevant moments and storylines from the game? Yes.
All three moments below represent mistakes by the Vikings. It should be noted that credit should go to Green Bay. The Vikings didn’t lose the game on their own. The Packers did what it took to come into U.S. Bank Stadium and win the game. So, credit to the coaching staff and players for the plan and execution, particularly the offensive approach early in the game which featured a good balance of runs and passes, plenty of motion and formation variation and an absolute commitment to attacking the perimeter of the Vikings defense.
Before we get to the three moments that led to the Vikings loss, let’s also point out that this article is not a complete exoneration of the Vikings defense. While the three moments are all mistakes by the offense, there was definitely plenty of regrettable moments by the defense, including a lack of physicality in coverage, an inability to pressure the QB and not forcing enough 3rd downs early in the game.
Ok, to the three pivotal moments we go…
With a little over eight minutes remaining in the 2nd quarter, the Vikings had surrendered three scores to Green Bay (including a safety), they were being outgained by their opponents 171-59 and they had committed three penalties, two of which resulted in Packers 1st downs. Yet they trailed by just one point, with Green Bay holding an unusual 8-7 advantage.
At that moment, just as Mason Crosby’s second field goal of the game sailed through the uprights, one couldn’t help but feel like the Vikings may have just absorbed Green Bay’s best shot and were getting ready to take the field on offense to begin the next phase of the game…their turn to begin on onslaught.
But that didn’t happen. And it didn’t happen because of three specific subsequent moments. Let’s detail them.
- The second Kirk Cousins sack
About 75 seconds after the aforementioned Crosby FG to give Green Bay an 8-7 lead, the Vikings were faced with a 3rd and 8 from their own 27. This is not a good situation for the Vikings because their pass protection leaves much to be desired, Green Bay’s pass rush is formidable and now the Packers had the Vikings in an obvious passing situation. Right on cue – Za’Darius Smith split Pat Elflein and Brian O’Neill and knifed into the backfield to sack Kirk Cousins. The Vikings drive ended after only three plays and a taxed Vikings defense was forced to take the field against Aaron Rodgers and Co. once more. Rodgers then led an 11-play, 60-yard TD-scoring drive that was capped by an absolute pinpoint throw on the run to Davante Adams in the front right corner of the end zone. Green Bay’s lead expanded to 15-7 at that point, and all the fuzzy feelings of surviving Green Bay’s first best shot became less, well, fuzzy.
- Cousins INT with 25 seconds to play in the first half
Two plays into the Vikings ensuing drive, disaster struck again. Cousins dropped back, threw on the outside to Adam Thielen and Green Bay CB Jaire Alexander got his hands on it to deflect it in the air and then came down with it for the INT. Yet another short series for the Vikings offense, which put the defense out on the field on short rest again. At that point, the Packers had run 44 plays compared to the Vikings 15. Yikes! By the way, Rodgers found WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling for a 45-yard TD two plays later, and the lead started to feel insurmountable.
- Bad decision on 4th and 3
Trailing 22-10 with 4:26 to play in the 3rd quarter, the Vikings were looking at 4th and 3 at the Green Bay 39. Head coach Mike Zimmer did the right thing and elected to go for it. Someone else did the wrong thing and the result was a go ball to Tajae Sharpe. Criticism at this point must be tempered because unless you were privy to the communication among Zimmer, Cousins and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, you don’t know what led to such a low-percentage strategy. Zimmer said Thielen was singled on the other side. Cousins said a safety was shading toward Thielen and he’d rather not throw a go ball to a receiver being treated that way. And rookie Justin Jefferson was being guarded by a DL in the left slot. Ultimately, the Vikings did the right thing by going for it and the wrong thing by throwing a go ball to Sharpe.