Change is hard, even if it’s necessary. Sometimes you know a change needs to happen, but for whatever reason, you haven’t made it yet.
Maybe it’s a relationship that needs to end, a job you need to leave, or just something you need to throw out that you haven’t forced yourself to drop in the trash just yet, but getting yourself to do the thing you have to do can be a challenge.
But then, sometimes, along comes The Incident — the thing that suddenly makes it a lot easier to make the call you’ve been dreading.
I don’t know when the Vikings made the decision to clean house last year, but their Week 17 loss to the Packers might have helped tip them toward tearing off that particular Band-Aid. The 37-10 drubbing they received that day revealed what a rudderless ship the team had become in the late Mike Zimmer era, and if it wasn’t already, Zimmer’s fate was probably sealed.
The Vikings were a shell of a team when they arrived at Lambeau Field. Kirk Cousins was sidelined with a COVID-19 diagnosis, Danielle Hunter and Adam Thielen were on injured reserve, and starting corner Cameron Dantzler ended up inactive after battling a calf injury all week. Dalvin Cook had emerged from his COVID-19 absence, but he ended up being more or less a non-factor in the game.
To make matters worse, the Vikings experienced a minor quarterback controversy that week, one which would later intensify. With Cousins out, Zimmer turned to journeyman backup Sean Mannion instead of 2021 third-round pick Kellen Mond at quarterback. Mannion had thrown just 74 passes over his five-year NFL career to that point (none for touchdowns), but Zimmer said he had never considered starting Mond and expected the team to rally behind his choice.
Nobody seems to have really believed him. Las Vegas certainly didn’t, installing the Packers as 13-point favorites. It didn’t take long to see why.
Well, it took about a quarter, actually. The Packers’ first two drives stalled out in the red zone, one ending with a field goal and the other with a failed fourth-down attempt when Davante Adams and Aaron Rodgers couldn’t connect on a pass into the end zone.
The Packers went three-and-out on their next drive…and then they woke up.
It’s hard to praise what the Packers did to the Vikings too much; after all, I did already say they were a shell of a team. But the Packers’ next six possessions were impressive. They scored each time they had the ball, including three touchdown drives of more than 60 yards. Unsurprisingly, Davante Adams and Allen Lazard did a lot of the damage. Lazard nabbed a couple of key catches, while Adams did a lot of work toward his final stat line of 11 catches for 136 yards and a TD. It was one of three games in 2021 where he had at least 11 catches for 130 yards and a score.
That six-drive stretch continued into the second half, and after the break AJ Dillon pounded away. He touched the ball eight times on two Packers’ touchdown drives and did the honors himself with scoring plunges of four and seven yards, notching the third multi-touchdown game of his career.
The Packers’ defensive performance was impressive enough, though not really surprising given the problems the Vikings faced that day. The Vikings got in their own way just as often as the Packers did anything to stop them. It took Mannion 36 attempts just to compile 189 yards through the air. Rashan Gary and Preston Smith each notched a sack, and the Vikings managed just 11 first downs.
Spectacular defense or not, it did the job, and the Packers were content to run out the clock with backups throughout the latter half of the fourth quarter as they cruised to a 37-10 victory.
The game eliminated the Vikings from playoff contention and ensured a losing season. They finished 7-9 and Mike Zimmer was ultimately relieved of his position, though not before offering one last terse soundbite to the media.
Kellen Mond did manage to make it into the Packers/Vikings tilt for a series due to a brief injury to Sean Mannion. With their Week 18 game rendered meaningless due to their loss in Green Bay, reporters asked Zimmer if he was interested in seeing what Mond could do.
“Not particularly,” said Zimmer. “I see him every day.”
Zimmer, as it turned out, was right about the Vikings’ 2021 third rounder. Even if he couldn’t get the job done, he nailed at least one player evaluation on his way out the door.