It was a matchup of two somewhat disappointing teams facing their potential last stand in a division clash. The Vikings, at 5-4-1, coming off an ugly loss on the road in Chicago, would still have a path to the playoff with a loss, but it would be a narrow one. The Packers came in below .500 and needed the win to hang in the NFC playoff picture.
Alas, despite a hotly contested, back-and-forth first half, the Vikings used a strong passing performance from Kirk Cousins and a great second half by the defense to come out on top. As it stands now, the Vikings hold the top wild card slot in the NFC, a half game up on four other wild card contenders.
Cousins had his worst game of the season a week ago. Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo had his worst game of the season a week ago. And Mike Zimmer was openly critical of both of them. They both responded with strong offensive performances, albeit one that does not exactly reflect the scoreboard.
After a slow start, both Minnesota and Green Bay traded a pair of touchdowns to even the score at 14, which would hold until halftime. Minnesota had a couple more opportunities to put points on the board, but Dan Bailey missed two field goals, one from 48 and one from 56 to close the half. From there, the offense kept a consistent rhythm. They added a Bailey field goal and a third Cousins touchdown pass in the third quarter to build a two-score lead. And while they did not score in the fourth, they maintained long drives that chewed clock to ensure Aaron Rodgers had as little time as possible to lead a comeback. Cousins was sharp, spreading the ball around and putting the Vikings in scoring position more often than not. 24 points does not necessarily represent a strong offensive game, but this was an important return to form for the Vikings’ passing attack.
Rodgers, on the other hand, struggled to get anything going after halftime. He spent considerable time under duress, getting sacked four times and twice by Sheldon Richardson. When he did have time, coverage was tight all over the field. No individual Packer receiver had a big day, as Davante Adams led with 69 yards on five catches.
As said before, this was a vital litmus test for the Vikings’ passing offense. Cousins has been more hot than cold this year, but he still has been more cold than one would like, and no game was colder than last week in Chicago. So with a depleted Packers team in town, the offense had to put up some numbers. And that they did.
Cousins went for 342 yards and three touchdowns on 76.3 percent completion in what was his most efficient game of the season. He took the easy throws when they were there, but also completed some tough downfield throws into tight windows. Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs were also in good form, combining for 202 yards and two touchdowns on 16 receptions. Cousins completed 80 percent of passes targeting those two. Kyle Rudolph also had himself a game with seven catches for 63 yards. He has not been nearly the offensive focal point he has been in the past. But Cousins looked his way early and often and Rudolph rewarded him by catching all seven of his targets.
The defense had a rocky first half, but as has been Zimmer’s trademark this year, they adjusted well at halftime. Rodgers and the Packers only managed three points in the second half. And while the difference ultimately was a single score, it never seemed as if the Packers were going to threaten that lead, given the way the defense was containing Rodgers.
Kicking is still a significant issue, as are some aspects of the offensive line. Bailey’s miss from 56 is excusable; he made the kick from 51 that was called back for a false start penalty before missing the longer one. However, kicking indoors and following a lengthy drive, a 48-yarder has to go through the uprights. Bailey has made only 50 percent of his kicks from 40-plus this year, so no doubt faith in him is fading a bit.
With the offensive line, there were certainly things to like. Riley Reiff had a solid game and Pat Elflein made the block to spring Dalvin Cook for a screen pass touchdown. However, rookie Brian O’Neill had a tough time in pass protection on the right side, as did Mike Remmers. Remmers in particular let up a notable sack late in the game when he tried to use the sling shot technique to launch Dean Lowry by Cousins, but ended up sending Lowry unabated to the quarterback for the sack. Still, overall Cousins had solid time to throw, and when he did not, he used his legs more effectively than he has in the past.
The Vikings are about halfway through the gauntlet of their schedule. Over the next two weeks, they have difficult road games at New England and at Seattle. If they can get out of that stretch still above .500, they have a stronger path to the postseason. But that may be easier said than done with the Seahawks playing well and the Patriots being the Patriots.
Final Score: Vikings 27, Packers 23
–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Deputy Editor for Full Press NFL. Like and Follow @samc_smith.
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