MINNEAPOLIS – Perhaps you’ve heard this story before:
» An offense stagnates on third down, and the franchise quarterback misses throws he has made his entire career.
» A game but undermanned defense eventually wears down late in the game.
» A special teams unit makes critical mistakes at critical junctures.
» The Green Bay Packers lose on the road.
Such has been the story all year for the 4-6-1 Packers, who lost 24-17 to the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday night. It was the sixth road loss of the season for Green Bay, and now the Packers need to essentially win out and get a lot of help to keep their playoff hopes alive. The Packers were competitive, kept it close, but in the end it just wasn’t enough to get over the hump against a team with a winning record.
Here are five takeaways from the game:
The moment passed
The Packers knew they needed something, anything, to happen in their favor Sunday night. Aaron Rodgers called it a galvanizing moment — and said it could come from anyone, anywhere. Unfortunately, they needed more than one after falling behind 24-14 after three quarters. The defense couldn’t get a turnover, Tramon Williams turned the ball over on a punt return and the offense was stagnant for the bulk of the second half. The offense finally put a drive together but Rodgers missed on two throws that led to a field goal rather than a potential touchdown. After Minnesota recovered an onside kick, the Vikings were able to work enough time off the clock to keep their playoff hopes alive and well.
Running in quicksand
The Packers got out of the gate hot, scoring touchdowns on two of their first three possessions. They went 1-for-2 on third down in those series, rolling up 119 yards on 17 plays. They used multiple personnel packages, worked the ball to five different receivers, saw Aaron Jones average 5.0 yards per carry and Rodgers play nearly perfectly.
But after that, it all fell apart. The Packers didn’t score again when it mattered. They didn’t convert on their next seven third-down attempts and on one fourth-down attempt. Jones was bottled up, Rodgers was harried and Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling were totally taken out of the game. Injuries didn’t help their cause, but nothing was working after early in the second quarter. It got so bad that Vikings coach Mike Zimmer felt confident enough with a 10-point lead with five minutes to go that he eschewed a chip-shot field goal to go for it on fourth down at the Packers’ 7.
Head coach Mike McCarthy was blistered by fans and national media for not going for it on fourth down in Seattle — so he nearly went for it on 4th-and-4 at the Vikings’ 41-yard line late in the second quarter, but thought the better of it and punted. Minnesota managed to get into scoring range, but Dan Bailey missed a 56-yard attempt. In the third quarter, McCarthy rolled out three tight ends and ran Jones on fourth-and-1 at his own 44 — but safety Harrison Smith shot around the edge of the blocking scheme to tackle Jones for no gain. The Vikings capitalized with a field goal to go up 17-14 on the short field. As part of that specific call, McCarthy was hot with the officiating crew for not resetting the play clock and he had to use a timeout to save the play.
The game turned after that field goal, as the Packers then went three-and-out, the special teams unit allowed a 20-yard punt return (and tacked on a five-yard penalty for good measure) and the Vikings scored in just four plays to go up 24-14.
Pass rush falls silent
A week after Kyler Fackrell had three sacks and the Packers took down Russell Wilson eight times, they could not generate any kind of pressure on Kirk Cousins — even though the Vikings rolled out a banged-up offensive line that started backups and had two starters for the game miss some plays. Cousins rarely was hurried and could make his progressions, which proved to be fatal for an already undermanned secondary asked to contain Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs and Kyle Rudolph. The Packers did get a couple of sacks, but those were thanks to coverage.
Packers lose battle of attrition
As the game unfolded, the Packers lost starting safety Kentrell Brice (ankle, concussion), starting left guard Lane Taylor (quadriceps), kick returner Trevor Davis (hamstring) and starting left tackle David Bakhtiari (knee) to injuries for various points in time. They also lost receiver Equanimeous St. Brown (elbow), who was leading the team with three catches for 53 yards at the time of his injury. And while Brice, St. Brown and Bakhtiari all returned, the snaps they missed were crucial. In fact, in the third quarter when the three offensive players went out, the Packers had to punt shortly after their departures as the Vikings broke a 14-14 tie to go up 24-14.