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Dalvin Cook, Kirk Cousins Excel in Vikings’ Crucial NFC North Win Over Packers

A playoff spot is looking more and more distant for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers after suffering their latest loss to Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook and the Vikings.

The Vikings jumped two games ahead of the Packers in the NFC playoff race on Sunday night, winning 24–17 in front of their home crowd at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. The Packers’ loss provided some breathing room for the teams above Aaron Rodgers and Co. both in the wild card and NFC North standings. So what did we learn from Minnesota’s divisional win? Here are our three takeaways.

No time to r-e-l-a-x

Green Bay fell to 4-6-1 after Sunday night’s defeat, third behind Chicago and Minnesota in the NFC North standings and 10th in the conference. The Packers will likely need to run the table to reach the postseason, and what stood before tonight’s contest as a difficult road to the playoffs now seems nearly impossible. Minnesota, Washington and Seattle all have the head-to-head edge over Green Bay, while Carolina and Dallas each have six wins. Even if the Packers win each of their final five contests, the team will need some help to reach the postseason.

The good news for Green Bay? Just one of its last five games is against a winning team, a December divisional matchup against the Bears. Rodgers hasn’t lost to Chicago since 2015, and the Packers have won nine of the last ten matchups. Arizona, at 2–9, and the Jets, at 3–8, should not give any problems to Green Bay, and hosting Atlanta is far preferable to traveling to Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Yet even if Green Bay can secure nine wins this season, a playoff spot is far from guaranteed, and the Packers could very well miss back-to-back postseasons for the first time since 2005-06.

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Captain Kirk comes through

Kirk Cousins cashed in with Minnesota during free agency this spring, signing a three-year, $84 million deal—and unlike last week, when Cousins threw for 262 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in a 25–20 loss to Chicago, the QB performed up to his contract on Sunday.

The seven-year veteran shredded Green Bay’s secondary, completing 29-of-38 attempts for 342 yards and three touchdowns. He extended Minnesota’s lead to 10 points on a heady scramble and toss across his body to WR Adam Thielen late in the third quarter, making a rare off-schedule throw.

While in Washington, Cousins struggled in the big moments, and while Thielen and WR Stefon Diggs are a significant upgrade from the Redskins’ underwhelming receiving corps, credit is due to Cousins for his growth and clutch performance on Sunday night. Cousins has now thrown for 767 yards and seven touchdowns in two games against Green Bay this season.

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Welcome back Dalvin Cook

A hamstring injury has limited the explosive 2017 second-round draft pick to just five games before Sunday’s this season. Cook had struggled in limited playing time when not injured, rushing for just 3.6 yards per carry with no touchdowns entering Sunday night.

Cook had a modest breakout vs. Green Bay, tallying 76 yards from scrimmage and most importantly finding paydirt for the first time in 2018 on a 26-yard screen in the first quarter (with a fun celebration to boot). The stats belie his strong effort—the Florida State product ran with a purpose in nine carries, bursting through the hole with a forward lean and modest mean streak, and he excelled in the passing game, serving as an outlet for Cousins both on screens and scrambles.

Latavius Murray still got the carries on Minnesota’s final fourth-quarter drive—likely to protect against a fumble following Cook’s cough-up against Chicago—yet Minnesota’s offense churned most effectively with Cook in the game. Look for the second-year running back to earn a greater share of the carries as Minnesota pushes toward the playoffs.