1. Confusion reigns early on big stage
The Vikings couldn’t have looked more confused than they were before the fourth snap of Sunday night’s 24-17 victory over the Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium. After winning the coin toss, they uncharacteristically — and wisely — chose to receive. Why give Aaron Rodgers the ball first in any game, eh? The Vikings had third-and-1 from their 34-yard line when their play design asked receiver Adam Thielen to motion to the right tight end spot and block linebacker Clay Matthews on a dive play to fullback C.J. Ham. Matthews tossed Thielen aside and made the stop for no gain. The Vikings ran the punt team out, but then called a timeout. Then they ran the offense back out. Unfortunately, 12 offensive players returned to the field and the Vikings were penalized 5 yards. Coach Mike Zimmer pulled the plug and punted the ball away.
2. Rhodes still tends to get too grabby
Xavier Rhodes has led the Vikings in penalties every season since his rookie year in 2013. The All-Pro cornerback is deserving of his many accolades, but he still tends to get too grabby downfield when it’s unnecessary. On the Packers’ second possession, the big corner had good enough position on a deep ball to Davante Adams but reached out and grabbed an arm for a 26-yard pass interference penalty. It was Rhodes’ fifth penalty of the season and tied him for the team lead with cornerback Mackensie Alexander. Rhodes had nine penalties last season, 11 in 2016, 12 in 2015, 12 in 2014 and six in 2013. Rhodes’ penalty Sunday night gave the Packers the ball at the Vikings 31-yard line. Five plays later, Adams beat Rhodes off the line and had an easy back-shoulder catch for a 15-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
3. Elflein threw block to spring Cook’s TD
Strangely, the Vikings’ opening script went two series — and two three-and-outs — before letting Dalvin Cook touch the ball. At that point, Kirk Cousins had completed five passes for 5 yards, while Ham had one run for zero yards. Things changed on the third possession. Cook touched the ball twice for 35 yards and a touchdown. He had a 9-yard run and a 26-yard touchdown off a screen pass, a play that showcases not only a healthy, explosive Cook but a healthy center Pat Elflein. Elflein continues to show signs of returning to full strength after dealing with offseason shoulder and ankle surgeries. One of his best strengths is being agile enough to quickly reach the second level. On Cook’s touchdown, he got out front into perfect position. His block on Packers linebacker Blake Martinez at the 22 was the key to the play working.
4. Griffen, Alexander can’t hold the edge
The Packers took a 14-7 lead with one of the easiest 6-yard sweeps you’ll ever see in an NFL game. On second-and-2 from the Vikings 6, the Packers lined up with three receivers bunched tight left. One of them motioned right just before the ball was snapped. That took cornerback Trae Waynes out of the area. That also left two receivers — Equanimeous St. Brown and Adams — to seal the corner that right end Everson Griffen and nickel back Alexander should have solidified. Normally stout against the run, Griffen was knocked inside easily by the 214-pound St. Brown. Adams blocked Alexander. Left tackle David Bakhtiari pulled and had no one to block until he got near the goal line and eventually ran into Rhodes and linebacker Eric Kendricks, who was in the end zone when Jones crossed the goal line untouched.
5. Snakebit by kickers, clock management
At halftime, the Vikings had played six quarters against the Packers this season. They were tied 43-43 and were 0-for-5 on field goals. Rookie Daniel Carlson missed three in the 29-29 tie in Week 2 and was replaced the next day by Dan Bailey. With Sunday night’s score tied at 14, Bailey missed wide left from 48 yards. Then the real blunders began in the closing seconds of the first half. Poor clock management and the overprotective fear of handing the ball back to Rodgers caused them to blow 43 seconds — from 1:10 left to :27 — before converting on third-and-7 at the Vikings 39. After a 20-yard pass to Thielen, Cousins had to spike the ball to set up a 51-yard attempt. Bailey made that, but Rashod Hill false-started. Bailey missed the 56-yarder wide right. Now in Oakland, Carlson has made seven of eight attempts.