Much of the week leading into this Vikings-Packers clash on Monday Night Football was spent discussing how far the Vikings offense has come since a woeful performance in the first meeting between these teams all the way back in Week 2.
An offense that looked completely inept in early-season losses to the Packers and Bears had turned into one of the league's better units for much of the year. Behind a rising star in offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski and the best season of Kirk Cousins' career, this offense was supposed to be different. It was supposed to show the Packers that things had changed in the past three months.
Instead, the Vikings offense went out in front of a national audience and a fired-up home crowd and played just as poorly as it did in those two early losses, if not worse.
The play-calling was suspect, the offensive line was dominated, and Cousins reverted to his old ways in an embarrassing 23-10 home loss. The Vikings clearly missed Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison, as an anticipated breakout game for Mike Boone never materialized. But Boone's play wasn't the reason for the loss.
The Vikings offense simply failed to show up. It finished with 139 total yards on 53 plays, good for 2.6 yards per play. It had seven first downs in the entire game, including just five through the first three quarters.
The most obvious culprit, as always, is Cousins. He looked sheepish in the pocket early on, throwing multiple passes at the feet of his receivers in the first quarter. And outside of a touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs, things never got better for the Vikings' polarizing quarterback, who fell to 0-9 in his career on Monday nights. He missed several throws, including an ugly interception into double coverage.
Cousins finished 16 of 31 for 122 yards with a touchdown and a pick. The 122 passing yards are a new career low in games where Cousins attempted at least 20 passes, beating out his 132 yards on 33 attempts in last year's season finale against the Bears.
But Cousins wasn't alone in failing to get the job done against the Packers. The offensive line, which has been solid for most of the season, was absolutely dominated by the Packers' front seven. They gave up five sacks, including 3.5 to Za'Darius Smith alone, and forced Cousins to rush his throw or throw it away on numerous other dropbacks. Cousins rarely had time to survey the field and find the open man.
The O-line was also called for multiple penalties, including a holding call on Riley Reiff that wiped out a long touchdown to Bisi Johnson that would've pulled the Vikings to within a score late in the game.
Lastly, the Vikings' coaching staff deserves some blame for this performance. Stefanski seemed to get away from the things the Vikings offense has done well all year – specifically screens and play-action rollouts. He got too creative at times, trying a Philly special on which Diggs overthrew Cousins, and a reverse to Adam Thielen on third down that was snuffed out. Thielen finished without a catch on four targets.
Mike Zimmer also made a couple questionable decisions in the loss.
The Vikings hung around for most of the game thanks to an outstanding performance by their defense, which forced three first-half turnovers and sacked Rodgers three times. But the offense turned those three turnovers into just 10 points and failed to put together any long drives of its own.
Star linebacker Eric Kendricks left the game with a quad injury late in the first half, and the defense eventually wore out. Aaron Jones rushed for 154 yards and two touchdowns, including a 56-yard score that all but sealed the victory for the Packers. Davante Adams caught 13 passes for 116 yards, and those two were really all the Packers needed on offense.
With the loss, the Vikings are locked into the sixth seed in the NFC, and will likely travel to New Orleans or Seattle on wild-card weekend.