It’s not easy to win on the road in the NFC North, no matter the record of each respective team. The Green Bay Packers found that out the hard way, losing to the Minnesota Vikings, 34-31, on a last-second field goal.
Heading into the game at 8-2 against a 4-5 Vikings squad, the Packers appeared to be the prohibitive favorites in the game. At the very least, on paper, they were the better squad.
The Packers fought back from what was at one point a 13-point deficit and even tied the game at 31 with just over two minutes left, but ultimately, the Vikings made plays when the Packers couldn’t.
The Packers didn’t look like themselves, and it cost them.
The Green Bay Packers were torched by the Minnesota Vikings
The Packers had a consensus top-five defense heading into this game, which was why many felt they were the favorites in Minnesota. They had just come off three games against three great quarterbacks (Kyler Murray, Patrick Mahomes, and Russell Wilson) and walked away with only 28 points given up. In fact, Green Bay’s defense was so good that they completely shut out the Seahawks.
That was a significant reason for optimism for the Packers despite the team being down multiple vital players due to injury.
They may have entered the game as a top-five defensive unit, but they are bound to fall down the rankings after this one.
Kirk Cousins and his offense looked like the vintage St. Louis Rams. Minnesota put up 408 total yards on a defense that had been giving up an average of 309.9 heading into the game. The Packers allowed the Vikings to have an efficient game on third downs (9-of-13), and they barely made life hard on Cousins. He was sacked twice, but other than that, he really had his way through the air.
Cousins completed 24 of 35 passes for 341 yards and three touchdowns. The Vikings averaged 6.2 yards per play and won the time of possession battle 31:01 to 28:59.
“Kirk hit his throws today. We allowed him to be comfortable, and that’s what happens when you let him get comfortable,” defensive end Preston Smith said after the game, according to the team website. “He can hit throws, and he can hurt you. “
The Packers were not themselves on defense
Though Green Bay did show remarkable resilience in making a comeback, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling’s 75-yard touchdown reception with 2:17 left in the fourth quarter made it a game, the Packers ultimately didn’t seem like an 8-2 team playing a supposedly inferior opponent.
Offensively, they started sluggish, with only three points put up on the board until the final seconds of the first half. Defensively, though the Packers did do a decent job of stopping Minnesota’s rushing attack, they couldn’t make big plays when it mattered the most. They also had no answer for wideout Justin Jefferson or his veteran teammate Adam Thielen.
“We’ve gotta play better. We weren’t ourselves today. We didn’t play up to our standards.” Smith lamented. “There’s a lot of things we can fix. A lot of things we can learn from watching this film.”
Jefferson simply dominated the Packers. He made big play after big play and was the main reason Green Bay’s defense couldn’t get off the field in critical spots. The second-year superstar caught eight passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns. He averaged 21.1 yards per catch and had a long haul of 56 yards.
“It just came down to miscommunication and execution,” Smith said when asked why Jefferson torched Green Bay’s usually stout secondary. “We know what we’ve got to do. We know what’s the assignment each and every week. I think [there] was some miscommunication on the back end that caused him to get open a couple of times. We just couldn’t let him get hot, and he got hot and did what he had to do to help his team.”
Lack of execution doomed the Packers
The Packers have been one of the best turnover teams in the league this season, but they couldn’t come away with any in Minnesota.
Darnell Savage, in particular, did have two great opportunities to swing the game in Green Bay’s favor, but he was robbed of one and missed on the other.
The first came in the second quarter when he did secure an interception of Cousins in the red zone, but it was nullified by a roughing the passer penalty.
The second was an even bigger play on the last drive of the game. Cousins threw a deep pass right to Jefferson, but Savage was able to make an excellent play on the ball, and it looked like he came away with a pick. Upon further review, it was determined that he used the ground to trap the ball, and the play was reversed.
Seven plays later, Greg Joseph kicked the game-winner for Minnesota.
The two interceptions that weren’t were the difference in this game, and those are plays Green Bay has come up with more often than not this season.
When the Packers turn the ball over on defense, they win. When they don’t, well, you see the result.
The missed interception in the fourth quarter was a lack of execution. The one that got called back earlier in the game was due to a mental error on the penalty, and that’s something else we haven’t seen much of from Green Bay this season.
The Packers were flagged eight times for 92 yards. Heading into the game, they were the second-least penalized offense in the NFL and the fourth-least penalized defense.
It was an uncharacteristic sloppy game from Green Bay.
“Too many mistakes out of everybody,” Smith said, reflecting on the loss. “All of us could have played better. All of us can look in the mirror and say, ‘We could have done this to help impact this play and this play.’ I feel like everybody feels conscious about that. That we can play better to help improve the results and the outcome of the game.”