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Vikings at Packers: Five Game-Changing Plays

Looking back at the most important plays from the 21-16 loss in Green Bay.

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Minnesota Vikings v Green Bay Packers
Kirk. Dude.
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

For the first quarter-plus of Sunday’s game between the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers, it looked like the home team was going to run their rivals right out of Lambeau Field. It was a Bizzaro Week 1 for the Vikings; instead of enjoying a 21-0 first half lead like they had against the Falcons, they found themselves trailing by that very same score just two plays into the second quarter.

But unlike the Falcons the week before, the Vikings fought back well before garbage time. Green Bay was held scoreless for the final 44:16 of the game by a Minnesota defense that bounced back from getting walloped for the first three drives. The Vikings rode another amazing performance by Dalvin Cook to scrape back into the game. They fought through some questionable calls and found themselves with a chance to steal an important road victory against a division opponent.

Unfortunately, Kirk Cousins was having none of it. The Vikings quarterback had his worst game since joining the team last season, coughing up three turnovers and providing a fresh batch of ammunition for his detractors. Pro Football Focus gave him an atrocious 25.3 grade. That’s a worse grade than any single game Christian Ponder played in his career. (I looked it up.) The loss can’t be placed solely at Cousins’ feet, but his performance was bad enough for multiple Twin Cities media outlets to question whether he’s good enough.

It shouldn’t be much of a surprise then that Cousins is heavily featured in our weekly list of game-changing plays.

Play 1: Packers ball, 1st & 10 at the Green Bay 25. First quarter, 15:00 remaining. A.Rodgers pass deep right to D.Adams pushed ob at MIN 36 for 39 yards (H.Smith).

The first play from scrimmage was ominous for Vikings fans to say the least.

It was a textbook example of a sign of things to come. Aaron Rodgers had a pristine pocket and delivered a strike to Davante Adams, who hauled in his first of what would be seven receptions for 106 yards. Adams got away from Xavier Rhodes, who probably expected safety help over the top on this play, but was torched by the Packers throughout the game. After a stellar showing against the Falcons, Rhodes looked like he was running underwater at times on Sunday. He allowed seven receptions on seven targets for 93 yards. Six of those catches and 85 of those yards were by Adams.

Just three plays later, Rodgers found Jamaal Williams for a touchdown and the Packers were up 7-0 just over two minutes into the game.

It was a bad start for the Vikings. But things would get much worse!

Play 2: Vikings ball, 1st & 10 at the Minnesota 40. First quarter, 1:22 remaining. K.Cousins sacked at MIN 33 for -7 yards (K.Clark). FUMBLES (K.Clark) [K.Clark], RECOVERED by GB-D.Lowry at MIN 33. D.Lowry to MIN 33 for no gain (J.Kline).

The Vikings moved the ball pretty well on their first drive, but Dan Bailey missed a 47-yard field goal attempt from the dreaded right hash to prevent them from answering. The Packers marched 63 yards for another score on an eleven-play drive that included three third down conversions. The Vikings desperately needed an answer after finding themselves down 14-0 early.

Their answer? A turnover.

The Vikings had narrowly avoided disaster just a play before after Cousins fumbled at the end of a first down scramble. Luckily, Irv Smith Jr. recovered. They weren’t so lucky this time. Kenny Clark demolished Garrett Bradbury off the snap, shoving him into Josh Kline and Dean Lowry to free Clark for a strip sack. Lowry pounced on the ball to give the Packers great field position to go up by three scores.

That’s exactly what the Green Bay offense did, capitalizing with their second brutally efficient four play scoring drive of the day. It was 21-0 two plays into the second quarter. Game, set, match.

Or was it?

Just two plays after getting the ball back, Cook broke free for a 75 yard touchdown. The blocking from Bradbury, Kline, C.J. Ham, and Dakota Dozier was excellent. Cook made one cut and did the rest.

OK, maybe we had a ball game after all.

For most of the remainder of the second quarter, the two teams exchanged punts and turnovers. The drives after the Cook TD until just past the two-minute warning:

  • Geronimo Allison fumble
  • Vikings 3 & out
  • Packers 3 & out
  • Vikings 3 & out
  • Packers go 4 net yards in 6 plays
  • Cousins picked off by Preston Smith after forcing a pass to Stefon Diggs in triple coverage
  • Packers turnover on downs after Rodgers thought it was first down

It looked like the teams were going to trade ugly plays for the remainder of the half, until Chad Beebe wriggled open to scamper 61 yards. It was one of the few bright spots of the day from Cousins, who hung in until the very last moment and delivered the pass as he was going down.

On the very next play, the Vikings made it a one score game. Or so we thought.

Play 3: Vikings ball, 1st & goal at the Green Bay 3. Second quarter, 1:12 remaining. K.Cousins pass short middle to S.Diggs for 3 yards, TOUCHDOWN. The Replay Official reviewed the play for possible offensive pass interference, and the play was REVERSED. K.Cousins pass short middle to S.Diggs for 3 yards, TOUCHDOWN NULLIFIED by Penalty. PENALTY on MIN-D.Cook, Offensive Pass Interference, 10 yards, enforced at GB 3 - No Play.

The first team to have a touchdown nullified by the new reviewable pass interference rule? It just had to be the Vikings.

Cousins. Diggs. Touchdown. Done. Right?

But then the review started taking forever.

And then the play was reversed.

For offensive pass interference.

Against Cook.


Apparently Cook was called for running into Darnell Savage past the line of scrimmage. Even if you want to do the “well actually by the letter of the law...” argument here, the call was still blatantly ridiculous. Why? BECAUSE NOTHING WAS CALLED ON THE FIELD AND THEY WERE JUST SUPPOSED TO BE REVIEWING THE SCORING PLAY. There seems to be zero rhyme or reason to anything the NFL is doing regarding interference replay through the first two weeks of the season. The soft-as-Charmin call literally cost the Vikings four points because they had to settle for a field goal right before half.

To be perfectly clear: I am NOT saying the call changed the outcome of the game. The early defensive coma and the late missed offensive opportunities we’re about to cover sealed the Vikings’ fate. But this ridiculous reversal shouldn’t be the direction officiating is headed.

(I’ll refrain from even getting into that Diggs OPI at the very end of the first half.)

Play 4: Vikings ball, 3rd & 7 at the Minnesota 39. Fourth quarter, 12:02 remaining. (Shotgun) K.Cousins pass incomplete deep right to S.Diggs.

The Vikings kept scraping back into the game in the third quarter. On their second drive of the second half, they overcame another extremely questionable offensive pass interference call—this time on Adam Thielen—to score on a 45-yard bomb from Cousins to Diggs. After a nightmare start, Minnesota was officially within striking distance. The defense continued to flummox Rodgers and the Green Bay offense, keeping it a five-point game heading into the final quarter. Early in the fourth, the Vikings narrowly missed a golden chance to take their first lead of the game.

This is a difficult pass to make, even for the best quarterbacks. And although I didn’t really see it on the All-22 angle, the broadcast alluded to Diggs letting up on his route for a split second. It’s tough to fault either party much on a deep ball that barely missed. But with that clean pocket, and what we had already seen from Cousins and Diggs earlier in the half, and the high stakes of the situation...yeah, that one would have been nice to have.

Especially when it’s juxtaposed with Cousins’ next target of Diggs.

Play 5: Vikings ball, 1st & goal at the Green Bay 8. Fourth quarter, 5:17 remaining. K.Cousins pass deep right intended for S.Diggs INTERCEPTED by K.King at GB -9. Touchback.

Cousins said it best in his postgame press conference: “You just can’t do that.”

Yes, the Vikings had already run for 52 yards on seven carries on this drive. So passing on first & goal when they were running down the Packers’ throats was an interesting call.

Yes, the Packers had been sniffing out the bootlegs for much of the afternoon. Tyler Conklin could have blocked better against Lowry, which would have given more time to Cousins.

No, you cannot blame anyone else but Cousins for that interception.

It was first down. FIRST DOWN! The Packers had the right coverage called. You’re getting hurried. Just throw the ball away and get three more cracks at the end zone! Instead, Cousins threw a jump ball that only Kevin King could make a play on, which he did. The Vikings offense never touched Green Bay territory the rest of the game.

After everything that went wrong, the Vikings still had a very good chance to steal a road win against a tough divisional opponent. That’s promising.

They didn’t steal that win because a lot of self-inflicted mistakes, most notably by their highly paid quarterback. That’s exasperating.

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’ loss to the Packers?

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    Rodgers to Adams on the first play of the game
    (26 votes)
  • 1%
    Cousins’ lost fumble
    (24 votes)
  • 22%
    Diggs’ TD called back by Cook’s OPI
    (331 votes)
  • 2%
    Cousins missing Diggs deep
    (43 votes)
  • 70%
    King’s end zone interception
    (1057 votes)
  • 1%
    Other (comment below)
    (15 votes)
1496 votes total Vote Now