Packers Insider: Thumbs up to punter JK Scott, down to running game
When you blow an eight-point lead with less than 2 minutes remaining, at home against your main NFC North challenger, it feels like a loss. The Packers did receive the consolation prize of Vikings kicker Daniel Carlson missing two overtime field-goal attempts, allowing them to escape with a 29-29 tie. But rather than being able to bask in the storyline of an exhilarating victory engineered by a gimpy-kneed quarterback whose playing status still was in question when the day began, the Packers now must endure an entire season with a troubling tie staining their record and potentially blurring their path to the playoffs. And when these teams meet again, it will be on the Vikings' home turf: Nov. 25 at U.S. Bank Stadium.
The Packers seemed to have taken command of this game at several points in the fourth quarter. They took a 23-14 lead with just over 7 minutes left, only to have the Vikings answer two plays later with a 75-yard bomb from Kirk Cousins to Stefon Diggs. After a Mason Crosby field goal boosted the lead back up to 26-21 with 2:17 left, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix returned an interception of Cousins to the Minnesota 13. But Green Bay settled for a field goal and an eight-point lead, and with 1:49 remaining and two of their timeouts, the Vikings managed to march 75 yards for a TD and two-point conversion to tie it at 29. Crosby missed from 52 yards out as time expired on what would've been his sixth field goal of the day, and the Packers were lucky to salvage a tie after being outplayed in overtime.
It's becoming clear that Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst made a wise decision investing a fifth-round draft pick in punter JK Scott. The rookie from Alabama boomed five punts for a 51.8-yard average (45.2 net) that allowed the Vikings only one return for 13 yards. Gutekunst wanted a punter who could "flip the field," and that's exactly what Scott did when, from the Packers' 18 midway through the second quarter, he unloaded a 63-yard punt into the wind with more than 5 seconds of hang time that pushed the Vikings all the way back to their own 19. Another punt later in that quarter from the Packers' 8 traveled 59 yards to the Vikings' 33. Good field position still matters, and Scott promises to provide it frequently.
Aaron Rodgers does it all for the Packers' offense and, given the struggles of the Green Bay running game, he needs to. With Aaron Jones serving the second of a two-game suspension, the Packers got only 90 yards rushing in total from Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery. Each produced a run or two that made you think they might provide some balance to the offense, but neither could follow up with any consistency.
» Costly penalty: The Packers fell victim to the new rules protecting hits on the quarterback, costing Mike Daniels a sack and, perhaps, the team a victory in regulation when Clay Matthews was flagged for unnecessarily roughing Kirk Cousins in the fourth quarter. Early in the game, Daniels didn’t take Cousins down, thinking he had gotten rid of the ball, only to see the quarterback scamper away. It wasn’t costly, as the Packers forced a punt. But near the end of regulation, Matthews hit Cousins in the midsection and drove him to the ground. The ball wound up in Jaire Alexander’s hands. While the team celebrated an apparent clinching interception, a flag was thrown. Unlike last week when Matthews was flagged for roughing late against Chicago, the Vikings took advantage and moved 60 yards downfield for a touchdown and two-point conversion to force overtime.
» Missed opportunity: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix intercepted Cousins and returned it 21 yards to the Vikings’ 13-yard line with 2:05 to go. After a Williams run for no gain took it down to 2 minutes, the Packers tossed an incompletion (6 seconds), took a delay of game and threw another incompletion (5 seconds). While the Packers did kick a field goal to go up 29-21, they didn’t force Minnesota to burn its remaining timeouts, which the Vikings used on their ensuing game-tying drive.
» Protection, secondary wear down: It was unlikely the Packers were going to keep the Vikings from hitting Rodgers on Sunday, but they were able to prevent that until the game lengthened on a hot afternoon. Minnesota finally dented the protection a bit in the second half with some QB hits and there were inopportune penalties on Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari, but they held up against a strong Vikings front through regulation. But, in overtime, with a chance to get into field goal range and win the game Everson Griffen sacked Rodgers to force a punt. The Packers' secondary, when healthy and together, allowed one touchdown. But after Kevin King went out with a groin injury, Davon House was picked on for a 75-yard touchdown in the second half. Cousins had just 132 passing yards in the first half; he finished with 425 as he found more free runners in the secondary.
» Rodgers was (almost) Rodgers: Aside from the bulky brace on his left leg, there were subtle hints that Rodgers was affected by his injury. Namely, the mere inches he was off on some throws that slid off the fingertips of Davante Adams, Randall Cobb and Jimmy Graham. But that just shows how perfect Rodgers is, that such throws are generally expected to be completed. Had they been converted, those would have been some of the longer throws in the air and perhaps led to more points. Rodgers averaged just 6.7 yards per attempt. He also lost the handle on a play fake in overtime on 2nd-and-4.
» Special teams up and down: The Packers' special teams unit scored a touchdown on a blocked punt and Scott flipped field position with booming punts of 63 and 59 yards early in the game. And while Mason Crosby was perfect when called upon the first five times in regulation, he missed his sixth attempt — a 52-yarder that would have won the game at the buzzer. Scott hit a great punt in overtime that landed around the Vikings’ 3, but the coverage unit did not get down in time to down it, and it tumbled into the end zone to give Cousins more breathing room. The extra yards gave the Vikings time to attempt another game-winning field goal in overtime. Luckily for the Packers, it sailed wide right.