Through 15 minutes of Sunday night’s game against the Minnesota Vikings, the Green Bay Packers looked like a team with a playoff-caliber offense. Aaron Rodgers was crisp and had zip on the football and Mike McCarthy seemed to have rediscovered some creativity in his playcalling as the Packers scored touchdowns on two of their first three drives.
Then everything fell apart. The Packers gained just three first downs on their next five series, while the Packers’ defense allowed chunks of yardage to the Vikings in the passing game throughout the middle part of the game. Minnesota tied the game quickly after each of the Packers’ scores early on, then finally took a lead fairly late in the third quarter.
It only took until that stage of the game because Minnesota’s kicking woes against the Packers continued. After Daniel Carlson missed three field goal attempts in the teams’ first meeting (including a pair in overtime), Dan Bailey missed from 48 and 56 yards before the break, keeping the game tied after 30 minutes. However, his make from 37 yards out gave the Vikings a 17-14 lead with about 3:30 remaining in the third, a lead they would not relinquish.
Meanwhile, the Packers continued to see key player after key player leave due to injury. Left guard Lane Taylor and left tackle David Bakhtiari both left the field in the third quarter, though Bakhtiari returned to the field a bit later. Safety Kentrell Brice missed time early with an injury, then was injured again when dropping his head on a tackle attempt.
All of that combined to cost the Packers several key players down the stretch as Minnesota eventually expanded their lead. But it was a bizarre mistake by a veteran player that truly put the nail in the coffin of this game and, in all likelihood, the Packers’ 2018 season. Tramon Williams inexplicably allowed a short punt to bounce in front of him in the fourth quarter instead of calling for a fair catch. The ball hit him in the chest, allowing Minnesota’s Marcus Sherels to recover the ball at the Packers’ 15 and kill some more clock. A late Packers field goal pulled the team back within seven, but the Vikings ran the clock out after recovering the ensuing onside kick.
The game started out with an awful possession for each team. The Vikings were stopped just short on third-and-one, then took a timeout before lining up to go for it on fourth-and-inches. However, they were flagged for having 12 men on the field, forcing them to punt. The Packers then went three-and-out, going run-run-pass with Davante Adams stepping out of bounds before catching a Rodgers throw that would have moved the chains.
Later on in the first quarter, however, the teams traded touchdowns, with the Packers getting on the board first. A pass interference penalty on Xavier Rhodes in coverage on Davante Adams got the Packers in Vikings territory, and Adams finished the job a few plays later. His 15-yard touchdown was his tenth of the year, giving him double-digit scores for the third straight year and giving the Packers a 7-0 lead. Minnesota responded quickly, however, with a long pass to Stefon Diggs setting up a 26-yard screen pass to Dalvin Cook for a score to tie the game.
It was the Packers’ next series when McCarthy really brought out some creative plays, responding with a touchdown of their own. The Packers got into the red zone thanks to a couple of nice throws from Rodgers to Equanimeous St. Brown, and at that point the playcalling got fun. After having run a jet sweep to St. Brown on the first touchdown drive, McCarthy brought Adams around on a fake sweep and Rodgers floated a screen pass to Aaron Jones for eight yards. McCarthy then called a toss play to Jones for a touchdown, as the running back and left tackle David Bakhtiari both went essentially untouched into the end zone for a six-yard touchdown and a 14-7 lead.
Another Vikings touchdown was set up by more secondary issues for the Packers, however, A pick play helped get Diggs free of Tramon Williams, and Cousins found him wide open for a 30-yard score.
After that, it became a nightmare for the Packers offense once again. Both teams struggled for about 20 minutes of game time, but the Packers were entirely unable to move the ball while the Vikings were but could not convert field goals. In fact, after the Packers’ second touchdown drive, the team picked up just six first downs the entire rest of the game due to sloppy execution, poor pass-protection, and a suddenly out-of-rhythm Rodgers. The second drive of the second half featured a significant gamble by McCarthy, who left the offense on the field on fourth-and-inches at the Packers’ 44-yard line. An Aaron Jones dive was stuffed at the line of scrimmage, turning the football over to the Vikings for a short field in a tie game. Minnesota moved the ball to the 20-yard line, where a Kenny Clark sack forced Bailey’s field goal to give the Vikings a 17-14 lead.
Following a big punt return by Marcus Sherels, the Vikings only needed four plays and 31 yards to extend their lead to 24-14. They cashed in on Clay Matthews’ overpursuit, running Kirk Cousins out on a bootleg to find Adam Thielen for a 19-yard touchdown.
Crucial sacks crushed the Packers’ offense once again in the second half. The team allowed third-down sacks on the drives before and after the Thielen touchdown, one allowed by Jason Spriggs with Bakhtiari off the field and the second by Bakhtiari after his return.
The only real silver linings for the Packers involved Davante Adams. In addition to hitting double-digit touchdowns again, he also crossed over the 1,000-yard threshold for the first time in his career. Adams ended up leading the team in receiving with five receptions for 69 yards and one score, giving him 1,022 yards on the season.
The Packers fell to 4-6-1 with the loss, while the Vikings improved to 6-4-1 and remained in the fifth spot in the NFC’s playoff picture.