GREEN BAY – Aaron Rodgers described his mistake as a “bonehead” play. Of course, his gaffe late in the first half ranked far below Kirk Cousins’ interceptions on the Richter scale of boneheaded plays, but Rodgers lamented his own weird oopsie moment.
Rodgers got confused over the correct down with the Green Bay Packers in position to stretch their lead, resulting in a miscommunication that opened the door for the Vikings to cut into the Packers’ lead right before halftime.
The sequence dramatically changed the tenor of the game, but it didn’t alter the outcome, as Cousins’ turnovers trumped Rodgers’ brain cramp in a 21-16 Vikings loss at Lambeau Field on Sunday.
“That was a bad play by me,” Rodgers said.
A controversial pass interference penalty on Dalvin Cook and Cousins’ backbreaking mistakes will get more scrutiny, but the entire game pivoted on one play.
Leading 21-7, the Packers faced a third-and-1 from the Vikings 25-yard line with two minutes left in the first half. A touchdown or field goal would have made it a threescore lead and snuffed any momentum the Vikings had established after a disastrous start.
Rodgers completed a pass to wide receiver Geronimo Allison, who was tackled near the line of scrimmage by safeties Jayron Kearse and Harrison Smith.
Rodgers said he looked at line judge Carl Johnson and thought he marked the spot at the 24, which would have been a first down.
“It looked from my vantage point that it might have been a positive questionable spot for us,” Rodgers said.
The clock was under two minutes, allowing for a booth review, so Rodgers rushed the offense to the line to run another play before a review could happen, thinking it was first down.
Instead, the ball was spotted at the 25, no gain, making it fourth down. Jamaal Williams took the handoff and was tackled by Linval Joseph for a 2-yard loss. Change of possession.
Rodgers was incredulous when he realized what had happened, noting he earned “an extra finger of scotch” later that night.
“I don’t make plays like that,” he said. “I always pride myself on having really good clock awareness and game awareness. I should have looked to make sure it was first and not fourth. Obviously fourth-and-1, we don’t want to run that play.”
First-year Packers coach Matt LaFleur took blame for the mix-up, indicating he should have called a timeout because he knew it wasn’t a first down.
“I’ve got to do a better job communicating to Aaron in that situation,” LaFleur said. “I’ve got to let him know that we’re going to take the points there. You live and learn. That falls on me.”
The Vikings capitalized on the gift. A 61-yard catch and run by Chad Beebe set up a controversial end to the half. Stefon Diggs’ 3-yard touchdown catch was overturned when a booth review flagged Cook for offensive pass interference. The Vikings settled for a field goal, trimming the halftime deficit to 21-10.
New ballgame at that point.
Didn’t matter, because Cousins’ lack of composure and reckless decisionmaking prevented the Vikings from pulling off an improbable comeback.
No one expects Cousins to outduel Rodgers because they reside in different quarterback tiers. But the Vikings should expect — and demand — that their $84 million quarterback not panic like an overwhelmed rookie at critical moments. Throwing a pass up for grabs into double coverage in the end zone on first down from the 8-yard line with the game on the line is inexcusable.
The start by the Vikings’ defense wasn’t exactly a Mona Lisa, either. Rodgers was surgical in carving up a depleted secondary in sprinting to a 21-0 lead. Mike Zimmer’s defense settled in, however, and held Rodgers in check after that.
That’s why this feels like a major missed opportunity for the Vikings, as strange as that sounds considering how the game started. Rodgers estimated that the Packers’ new-look offense under LaFleur has produced only “a couple good quarters out of eight.”
“The biggest thing is that we’re 2-0,” he said.
One boneheaded play didn’t derail them. The Vikings can’t say the same for their quarterback.
Chip Scoggins email@example.com