Packers Insider: Thumbs up to Davante Adams, down to depleted roster
The Packers technically are still alive in the playoff race if they win out (although even at 9-6-1 they now would lose a tiebreaker with the Vikings), but such talk sounds hollow given they're winless (0-for-6) on the road and still have to play at NFC North leader Chicago. Besides, is there anything about this team that suggests it is playoff-worthy? Again Sunday, the Packers repeatedly made bad mistakes at crucial times and were ineffective in the second half. The Packers had chances to win in all four of their recent road tests (at the Rams, Patriots, Seahawks and Vikings), but no "galvanizing moment" ever emerged.
After holding their own in the first half and being tied 14-14 at intermission, the Packers faced a fourth-and-one at their own 44 early in the third quarter. Coach Mike McCarthy, no doubt mindful of his decision to punt on fourth-and-two late in the previous loss at Seattle, put his faith in his offense but wasn't rewarded. Aaron Jones was stuffed for no gain, and the Vikings took advantage of the short field to kick a field goal for their first lead. The Packers went three and out on their next possession, the Vikings returned the ensuing punt 20 yards (and got five more on a Packers penalty) and from the Green Bay 31 needed only four plays for the touchdown that gave them a commanding 24-14 lead.
Although he was targeted only eight times, Davante Adams made the most of his opportunities with five catches for 69 yards and a touchdown. He should've had at least one more on a third-down play from the Minnesota 20 late in the fourth quarter when he broke free and was wide open in the end zone, but Aaron Rodgers overthrew him. Adams did surpass the 1,000-yard mark for the first time in his five seasons and became the first Packers receiver to have 10 touchdown catches in three straight seasons since Sterling Sharpe from 1992-94, per ESPN.
All NFL teams deal with injuries and the Packers haven't used theirs as an excuse. But what a difference cornerback Kevin King and wide receiver Randall Cobb, both of whom tested their injured hamstrings on the field before the game in hopes of playing, could have made on this night. The game turned at about the same time that left tackle David Bakhtiari, the most indispensable player on the Packers' offense after Rodgers, was temporarily forced to the sidelines by a knee problem. Without him, Rodgers was sacked and the Vikings quickly forged their 10-point lead. The injury-riddled defense could have used departed safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Jermaine Whitehead, and although general manager Brian Gutekunst had his reasons for sending them packing, their exits left defensive coordinator Mike Pettine with a seriously depleted secondary.
» The moment passes: 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 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 and five minutes to go that he eschewed a chip-shot field goal to go for it on fourth down at the Packers’ 7.
» Decisions, decisions: 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 fourth-and-4 at the Vikings’ 41 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 on the short field, getting a field goal to go up 17-14. 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.
» 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.