GREEN BAY, Wis. – Aaron Rodgers’ knee appeared magically rehabilitated on Sunday, and so did the Vikings’ Achilles’ heel.
In a rivalry defined for 25 years by the Green Bay Packers’ stability and the Vikings’ desperation at quarterback, Rodgers encountered a new and worthy foe. Kirk Cousins threw for 425 yards and four touchdowns and produced 22 points in the fourth quarter to steal a 29-29 tie at Lambeau Field.
Had kicker Daniel Carlson made one of his two field-goal attempts in overtime, Cousins would have orchestrated one of the greatest Vikings victories in the rivalry’s history. Instead, he settled for becoming the second Viking ever to throw for 400 yards against Green Bay, along with Randall Cunningham.
Cousins completed 35 of 48 passes and recorded a 118.8 passer rating. His one interception was the result of Laquon “Mittens” Treadwell deflecting an accurate pass to a defender.
In Cousins’ first game as a Viking, he threw two gorgeous touchdown passes and earned his teammates’ admiration by diving into two defenders in the fourth quarter against San Francisco. In Week 2, he displayed his toughness by standing still.
He had thrown touchdown passes of 3 and 75 yards to Stefon Diggs in the fourth quarter. The Packers had produced a field goal with 1:45 remaining to take a 29-21 lead. Cousins took the ball on the 25 needing a touchdown and a two-point conversion to tie.
His first pass was intercepted but erased when Clay Matthews was penalized for taking Cousins to the ground.
“It’s one of those plays that I don’t think is flagged a couple of years ago,” Cousins said. “They’re trying to protect the quarterback. As a quarterback, I appreciate it.”
Cousins found Adam Thielen for 12, scrambled for 4, passed to Kyle Rudolph for 10 and 6 yards and Thielen for 6. On first-and-10 from the Packer 22 with 36 seconds remaining, he dropped back and, as Packers defensive end Mike Daniels hit him in the legs, somehow threw a pass that threaded between two defenders and dropped into Thielen’s hands as he fell into the end zone.
He looked to be covered but kept his hands low, a magician hoping you don’t see the hidden card.
“I was getting hit,” Cousins said. “I still don’t know how we completed it. I knew it was going to be dicey. Adam has what we call late hands. It’s just an outstanding play by an outstanding player.”
The Vikings punted with five minutes left in the third quarter, trailing 20-7. From that point, Cousins engineered these results: touchdown pass, touchdown pass, interception on deflection, touchdown pass, missed field goal, missed field goal.
“I didn’t need to play in a game to learn what the rivalry is all about,” he said. “I’ve been a football fan enough to know what this rivalry is all about.
“It’s a privilege to play in this stadium, to play for the Vikings against the Packers, to play in this division. This is a privilege and a responsibility I take very seriously.”
Throwing for 400 yards is impressive, and troubling. Cousins last reached that mark in 2016, when he did it twice. On Oct. 30 at Cincinnati, he passed for 458 yards — in a 27-27 tie. On Nov. 24 at Dallas that year, he passed for 449 yards — and lost 31-26.
After this game, on the field, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer sought out Rodgers and told him he’s a great player ‘‘and I hate him. He said, ‘I love-hate you, too.’ He’s amazing, the things he can throw, the things he sees. I still think they should trade him.”
The only time in the past 25 years the Vikings have been able to match the Packers at quarterback was when they signed Rodgers’ predecessor. Cousins has far to travel before he can compare with Brett Favre’s successor. Just this week, Cousins admitted that Rodgers flies “at a different altitude than I do.”
Through two games, Cousins has hinted that his Vikings career may require an altimeter all its own.