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Packers’ Defense Gives Too Much Help to Vikings

Busted coverages and missed opportunities doomed the Green Bay Packers on Sunday at the Minnesota Vikings.
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MINNEAPOLIS – The previous three games, the Green Bay Packers held three of the NFL’s star quarterbacks, Arizona’s Kyler Murray, Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and Seattle’s Russell Wilson, to a 59.7 passer rating, a 56.4 percent completion rate and one touchdown pass.

The previous two games, the Packers held Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman to a combined 7-of-17 for 57 yards and Seattle’s prolific D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett to 5-of-16 for 49 yards.

On Sunday, Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins set the Packers’ secondary ablaze. Cousins was 24-of-35 passing for 341 yards and three touchdowns, good for a 128.4 passer rating. Justin Jefferson (8-of-10 for 146 yards and two touchdowns) and Adam Thielen (8-of-10 for 82 yards and one touchdown) combined to catch 16-of-20 targets for 248 yards and three scores. Their dominance sparked the Vikings to a 34-31 victory on Sunday.

“Certainly, we knew it was an explosive offense,” coach Matt LaFleur said. “They got two premier receivers, Dalvin Cook, he’s a premier back and I think Kirk Cousins is a premier quarterback, so that’s quite a tandem that they have across the board. I think their O-line did a nice job. That’s a good offense and they got the better of us today.”

The Vikings were spectacular but there were too many self-inflicted errors by a defense that had risen to No. 3 in points and yards allowed because it had made so few mistakes.

On the opening possession, Jefferson got wide open on third-and-6 for a gain of 43. Safety Henry Black dropped the coverage on a crossing route and nobody picked him up until he was running through the secondary. That set up Minnesota’s opening field goal.

On the next possession, Jefferson lined up in the slot and ran right through the secondary. It appeared cornerback Eric Stokes should have maintained the coverage. Instead, it was a 56-yard gain to the 1 to set up a touchdown.

On the third possession, Darnell Savage was penalized 37 yards for interference on another deep ball to Jefferson. Moments later, Kingsley Keke’s pressure forced Cousins to throw an interception to Darnell Savage. However, Keke was flagged for roughing the passer on a helmet-to-helmet hit. Then, on third-and-goal at the 10, Kevin King played soft and missed the tackle that would have kept Thielen out of the end zone.

Just like that, it was 16-3.

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On the first possession of the second half, Stokes had a chance for an interception but couldn’t make the play. Later, on third-and-goal at the 9, Jefferson lined up in the backfield, ran a circle route and beat Black for a touchdown.

After the Packers rallied to take a 24-23 lead, the defense needed a stop but couldn’t get it. On third-and-3 from the Packers’ 23, Joe Barry sent Savage on a blitz that left Jefferson one-on-one with Stokes. Savage got home a split-second too late and Jefferson adjusted to an underthrown ball for the touchdown to put the Vikings on top 31-24.

Green Bay tied the game a moment later on Aaron Rodgers’ 75-yard touchdown pass to Marquez Valdes-Scantling. But the 2:08 remaining on the clock seemed to be far too much considering the efficiency of the Vikings’ passing attack.

After the kickoff, the Packers were flagged for having 12 men in the huddle.

“That’s embarrassing,” LaFleur said. “When you have a 2-minute warning or a stopped ball situation and you got 12, it’s inexcusable.”

On the next play, Cousins went deep to Jefferson but Savage ranged over and made a leaping interception. Or so it appeared. Instead, Savage failed to control the ball. Given new life, the Vikings finished the job.

“It’s an emotional rollercoaster the entire game, right?” LaFleur said. “Just in terms of being down 13 points, having the resiliency to fight back, to take the lead and have opportunities. Certainly, you’d love to survive the ground right there. Unfortunately he didn’t, and that’s just the way it worked.”

On a first down from their 37, Cousins fired the ball into the flat to Dalvin Cook for a gain of 19. About 15 yards came after Krys Barnes missed the tackle. On the next play, Cousins went to the sideline to Thielen. Cornerback Rasul Douglas appeared to lose the ball, because he was going the wrong way when Thielen turned a 12-yard pass into a gain of 26.

From there, the outcome was inevitable. Cook ran for 12, Cousins kneeled twice and Greg Joseph kicked the winning field goal.

“We’ve got to play better,” said outside linebacker Preston Smith, who had two sacks and one forced fumble to lead a strong pass rush. “We weren’t ourselves today. We didn’t play up to our standards. There’s a lot of things that we can fix, a lot of things we’re going to learn from watching this film. Going forwards to play the Rams, we know we’ve got to fix a lot of things and we know we’ve got to fix them as fast as possible to get the ball back rolling and get back to ourselves.”

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