Admit it. After watching the Vikings bungle their first drive by wasting a timeout and getting penalized for twelve men on the field before they could even attempt a fourth down conversion, the “here we go again” feelings came back. When the Packers marched eight plays for 68 yards and the game’s first score, you were convinced that we were headed for a second straight week of misery in front of a national audience. I know those thoughts certainly passed through my mind last night. Instead, we got the perfect ending to a surprisingly win-filled Thanksgiving weekend for Minnesota sports. (Sorry, Wisconsin. We’ll try not to axe you how your football weekend went.)
The Packers aren’t officially dead yet, but after losing their eighth consecutive road game, their playoff hopes (and Mike McCarthy’s career in Green Bay) are on life support. Aaron Rodgers was held to under 200 yards passing and sacked four times. Kirk Cousins bounced back from his worst game of the season to play what may have been his best of the year, going 29 of 38 for 342 yards and three scores. The pass blocking was actually respectable for much of the evening, giving Cousins some clean pockets to find Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, and Kyle Rudolph over and over against the beat-up Packers secondary. It wasn’t a perfect evening—the kicking game woes continued and the injury to Xavier Rhodes has the potential to be pretty serious—but it was a victory that the Vikings desperately needed in order to keep their playoff chances afloat.
The bragging rights over Wisconsin football fans is a nice added bonus too.
Let’s get to our weekly review of the biggest plays that led to a much more pleasant Sunday Night Football result this time around.
Play 1: Vikings ball, 1st & 10 at the Green Bay 26. First quarter, 3:00 remaining. K.Cousins pass short right to D.Cook for 26 yards, TOUCHDOWN. GB-K.Brice was injured during the play.
After starting the game with two abysmal three-and-outs while falling behind 7-0 to a Davante Adams touchdown, the Vikings needed an answer. They found it in an area where they had gained a grand total of 15 yards the entire season before last night—a screen pass!
Pat Elflein had a nice downfield block against Blake Martinez and Dalvin Cook did the rest to cap off a tidy six play, 75 yard drive that evened the score. Plus it gave us one of the better touchdown celebrations in recent years—the limbo!
For the first time in five quarters, Vikings fans and players alike were finally having fun again. While the Packers would take the lead again on the ensuing drive, this score and celebration set the tone and let everyone know that the offense came to play.
Play 2a: Vikings ball, 3rd & 5 at the Green Bay 40. Second quarter, 11:46 remaining. (Shotgun) K.Cousins pass short right to S.Diggs to GB 30 for 10 yards (I.Campbell).
Through the first quarter-plus, it looked like the Vikings were going to get Rodgers’ A+ game. The Packers didn’t even face a third down on their second scoring drive, and once again the Vikings offense needed an answer. Once again, they found one in the form of one of their star players. On this crucial third down just outside of field goal range, Cousins found Diggs short of the sticks. Tramon Williams decided he wanted no part of getting juked out of his ankles and Diggs scampered for the first down.
Without this conversion, the next play can’t happen.
Play 2b: Vikings ball, 1st & 10 at the Green Bay 30. Second quarter, 11:07 remaining. K.Cousins pass deep left to S.Diggs for 30 yards, TOUCHDOWN.
And poor Williams ended up getting juked out of his ankles anyway.
After trading touchdowns for four drives, the Vikings defense hunkered down and held firm for the rest of the game, allowing 135 total yards on the Packers’ final seven drives that yielded only three points. However, the Vikings couldn’t capitalize in the first half due to two missed field goals by Dan Bailey. (Adam Thielen’s incredible second quarter grab over Jaire Alexander would have definitely made this list if the drive would have resulted in points.) The two teams went into halftime in a very familiar position: tied.
It was still tied halfway through the third quarter when the Vikings defense made a huge stop to kick-start the second half scoring.
Play 3: Packers ball, 4th & 1 at the Green Bay 44. Third quarter, 7:28 remaining. A.Jones up the middle to GB 44 for no gain (H.Smith).
Mike McCarthy was ridiculed after Green Bay’s Week 11 loss to the Seahawks after punting on fourth down late in the game. He seemed determined to reverse the narrative by going for it in his own territory on Sunday night. The decision was defensible, but perhaps running straight up the middle into the heart of the Vikings defense wasn’t the greatest idea.
Harrison Smith shot around the edge to get initial contact on Aaron Jones while Eric Kendricks and Danielle Hunter ensured the ball was short of the first down. The turnover on downs led to an actual made field goal by Bailey to give the Vikings their first lead of the night. It was a lead that Minnesota wouldn’t relinquish thanks to their defense continuing to clamp down on Rodgers.
Play 4: Packers ball, 3rd & 13 at the Green Bay 13. Third quarter, 2:42 remaining. (Shotgun) A.Rodgers sacked at GB 13 for -9 yards (S.Richardson).
With David Bakhtiari coming off the field to attend to an injury, the Vikings wasted no time in destroying Green Bay drives in his absence.
Danielle Hunter and Sheldon Richardson pulled off a masterful stunt and Richardson sacked Rodgers deep in Green Bay territory on third down. That led to a punt that Marcus Sherels returned for 20 yards with an extra five tacked on for an illegal formation by the Packers, which meant the Vikings started their drive on the Packers’ 31. Four plays later, Cousins found Thielen for a 14-yard score and a ten point Vikings lead at the end of the third quarter.
Of course, this is still the Vikings we’re talking about, so simply cruising to a comfortable win is out of the question. Despite forcing a punt on another Richardson sack early in the fourth quarter and milking the clock on their ensuing drive, Minnesota was forced to punt after Cousins was sacked out of field goal range.
Play 5: Vikings ball, 4th & 13 at the Green Bay 37. Fourth quarter, 6:00 remaining. M.Wile punts 21 yards to GB 16, Center-K.McDermott. T.Williams MUFFS catch, RECOVERED by MIN-M.Sherels at GB 15.
As if Tramon Williams’ night wasn’t already bad enough.
Perhaps he was still thinking about getting scorched by Diggs on this punt return; there isn’t another logical explanation as to why he let the punt from Matt Wile bounce. Sherels pounced on the muffed punt and the Vikings took over once again.
Minnesota didn’t end up with any points out of the game’s only turnover, since they went for the kill on 4th and 2 and didn’t convert. But they were still able to milk another minute of clock and force Green Bay to take their second timeout, which gave them precious little time to mount a comeback. The Packers got a field goal just before the two minute warning to make it a one score game, but they never got the ball back.
BONUS PLAY: Vikings ball, 3rd & 6 at the Green Bay 37. Fourth quarter, 2:00 remaining.
I had to expand the list this week with how the Vikings were able to finish off the game. This time around, the aggressive play calling to try and put away the Packers for good paid off.
Cousins had an amazing game on Sunday night, but Diggs definitely bailed him out on this throw. The pass was well behind Diggs, who made a tough adjustment and iced the game with the first down. If he doesn’t make the catch, Rodgers was probably going to get the ball back deep in his own territory with over 90 seconds and no timeouts left. I don’t know about you, but I’m glad I didn’t have to find out how that scenario would have unfolded.
With two extremely tough road games on the horizon, the Vikings needed this win in the worst way. The wins that bolster your postseason chances while destroying those of your division rivals are the best kind. Hopefully we’ll see more of this version of the Vikings down the stretch.
As always, we welcome you to vote in the poll to tell us which play you thought was the biggest and encourage you to suggest any we may have missed in the comments.
What was the most important play from the Vikings’ win over the Packers?
This poll is closed
Diggs’ third down conversion/TD combo
Defensive stop on 4th & 1
Richardson’s sack that led to the short field
Williams’ muffed punt
Diggs’ third down grab
Other (comment below)