MINNEAPOLIS – A chance to essentially wrap up the NFC North slipped through the fingers of the Green Bay Packers.
Greg Joseph’s 29-yard field goal as time expired gave the Minnesota Vikings a 34-31 victory over the Packers in a thrill-a-minute NFC North showdown in front of a bipartisan crowd at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday.
The Packers, with eight starters out of the lineup due to injuries by game’s end, had a chance to steal a come-from-behind victory but Darnell Savage dropped an interception on the Vikings’ game-winning drive. Given new life, Kirk Cousins completed passes of 19 yards to Dalvin Cook and 26 yards to Adam Thielen to set up the winning field goal. Cook broke a tackle attempt by linebacker Krys Barnes to turn a small gain into a big chunk, and Rasul Douglas appeared to not see the ball on the pass to Thielen, which allowed him to tack on almost 20 yards after the catch.
It's only the second division loss for Packers coach Matt LaFleur, who entered the day 13-1 in the circuit. The victory allowed Minnesota (5-5) to stay in the NFC North hunt behind Green Bay (8-3).
The Packers, who trailed 16-3 late in the first half, took a 24-23 lead with 7:49 remaining in the game.
The drive started with left tackle Elgton Jenkins exiting with a knee injury and Yosh Nijman replacing him in the lineup. It continued on a brilliant call by LaFleur. On third-and-1, Rodgers handed it to receiver Randall Cobb who gave an option flip to running back AJ Dillon for the conversion.
On the touchdown, Rodgers signaled for a timeout just as Lucas Patrick sent the shotgun snap. It’s little wonder why Rodgers wanted a timeout. Nobody blocked Everson Griffen. As it turned out, nobody covered Davante Adams, who stutter-stepped his way into the clear against Mackensie Alexander for an 18-yard touchdown. Mason Crosby’s extra point broke the tie.
The Vikings answered. On third-and-3, Savage blitzed up the middle but Cousins unloaded the ball just before Savage arrived. The blitz left Justin Jefferson one-on-one with rookie cornerback Eric Stokes. Jefferson, as he’s done throughout the game, won the matchup. He adjusted to a slightly underthrown ball at the 4 and tumbled into the end zone for a 23-yard touchdown. Cook’s run tacked on two points to make it 31-24 with 2:17 to go.
The Packers wasted no time getting the equalizer. On the first play of the ensuing drive, Rodgers threw a 75-yard touchdown pass to Marquez Valdes-Scantling. Valdes-Scantling beat safety Xavier Woods, caught the ball at the Vikings’ 45 and turned on the jets.
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Cousins threw for 341 yards and three touchdowns. Rodgers threw for 385 yards and four touchdowns in a good old-fashioned shootout that had nothing in common with the old Black-and-Blue Division rivals.
Green Bay has one more game until the bye. It needs a break. Left tackle David Bakhtiari, running back Aaron Jones, receiver Allen Lazard and outside linebacker Rashan Gary were inactive. Jenkins dropped out with a knee injury. Cornerback Jaire Alexander, outside linebacker Preston Smith, tight end Robert Tonyan and center Josh Myers are on injured reserve.
Rodgers’ 25-yard touchdown pass to Josiah Deguara on a third-and-5 late in the first half, which cut the deficit to 16-10, was huge, because the Vikings were set to get the ball to start the second half and looked almost unstoppable.
After dominating Arizona’s Kyler Murray, Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and Seattle’s Russell Wilson the past three weeks, it was Cousins doing the dominating. He was 9-of-12 for 162 yards and one touchdown in the first half, good for a 144.4 passer rating. Jefferson had three receptions for 104 yards. Rodgers was 13-of-22 for 188 yards and one touchdown, good for a 102.1 rating. But, like last week, it was an all-or-nothing passing attack. Valdes-Scantling (39), Adams (37) and Deguara (25) had 101 yards on three catches. The other 19 attempts have gained 87 yards.
What it means: The Packers entered the game in total control of the NFC North – a three-and-a-half game lead and more wins (eight) than the rest of the division teams combined (seven). So, chances are, this might be a matter of no harm, no foul. So long as the Packers get healthy and this defensive performance was the exception and not the rule, Green Bay is in great shape.
MVP: The Packers had no answers for Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson, who caught 8-of-10 passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns. Rookie cornerback Eric Stokes wasn't solely responsible but it was a tough day at the office for the first-round pick.
Key stat: The silver lining is Aaron Rodgers got rolling. He finished 23-of-33 passing for 385 yards and four touchdowns with a 148.4 passer rating.
As he deals with a painful toe injury, Rodgers said he was stepped on in the first half, which didn't help matters. He said the upcoming week will look a lot like this past week, with extremely limited practice reps.
Key moment: On the final play before the 2-minute warning, Kirk Cousins went deep to Justin Jefferson. Jefferson was momentarily open but the ball was underthrown, which allowed safety Darnell Savage to make a leaping interception. However, Savage failed to control the ball. So, while Fox viewers were in commercial, the Vikings’ offense and the Packers’ defense were huddled up. The inability to make the play gave the Vikings a chance to win the game. And they did.
What’s next: The Packers will host the Los Angeles Rams (7-3) on Sunday. The Rams will be coming off a bye that followed two lopsided losses: 28-16 at home against Tennessee and 31-10 at San Francisco. Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford is third in passer rating, third in touchdowns and first in yards. Should the Packers have signed free-agent receiver Odell Beckham Jr.? He’ll be playing in his second game for Los Angeles. After Kirk Cousins lit up the Green Bay defense, it will need to return to its sticky-coverage ways against the prolific Stafford.