GREEN BAY, Wis. – Pat Shurmur, the Vikings’ red-hot offensive coordinator, was being too cute with his calls early on in Saturday’s game against an overmatched and undermanned Packers team that hadn’t been a nine-point home underdog in nearly 30 years.
And it wouldn’t matter one iota. Vikings 16, Packers 0. First shutout since 1993. First Vikings shutout of the Packers since 1971.
“That,” said receiver Adam Thielen, “was a great win.”
Good, yes. Gritty, for sure. But great might be stretching it.
At kickoff, the Packers were missing starters Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, Damarious Randall, Jahri Evans and some fella named Rodgers.
Before the second snap, right tackle Jason Spriggs was carted away with a leg injury. Backup guard Justin McCray stepped in.
And the press box announcements kept coming throughout the game.
“Jordy Nelson, shoulder, is out.” “Aaron Jones, knee, is out.” “Josh Jones, shoulder, is out.” …
The game, however, had a bad vibe going early on for the Vikings. And, to me, it felt like Shurmur was trying to be too cute and not forceful enough with the 20th-ranked run defense.
The Vikings’ seventh snap of the game was a second-and-7 from the Green Bay 31-yard line. The play call was a slow-developing misdirection play in which receiver Stefon Diggs faked an end-around to draw attention away from a screen pass to Jerick McKinnon. The pass was pressured and low, McKinnon couldn’t get to it and the Vikings settled for a 49-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.
On the next series, it was third-and-2 when Case Keenum dropped back to throw. The Vikings’ previous two runs averaged 5 yards. Keenum was sacked and the Vikings punted.
But it wouldn’t take long to realize the Vikings couldn’t lose this game. That moment came on the next series when Keenum launched a terribly underthrown deep ball toward Diggs.
Diggs wasn’t being covered by Randall. The former first-round draft pick was added to the injury report on Friday and was inactive.
In his place was Josh Hawkins, a second-year player who went undrafted. He was making his third NFL start. And it showed in how Diggs turned what should have been an interception into a 39-yard pass interference penalty.
“No. 1, I want to beat the guy in front of me,” said Diggs, who had a game-high five catches for 60 yards and a touchdown. “Once I beat him, I adjust from there. If the ball’s underthrown and I know it’s a young guy, I know he’s going to panic. If he does get beat, he will panic and run up on you.”
He sure did, and it gave the Vikings first-and-goal at the 6. Two plays later, Diggs was being doused with beer after a 4-yard touchdown.
“We were riding Stefon today,” said Thielen, who had two catches for 24 yards after grabbing 12 for 202 yards and two touchdowns in a Week 16 loss here last year. “He kept the offense going.”
The Vikings would punt on six of their next seven possessions. And the game would develop another bad vibe when the Packers reached the red zone with 1:12 left in the first half.
But that’s when one of Brett Hundley’s 23 incompletions ended up in safety Harrison Smith’s hands on third-and-3 from the Vikings 15-yard line.
The bad vibe ended with that play.
Hundley hadn’t tested the Vikings over the middle much. And when he did try to force things, Smith was there to jump the route.
“Nothing crazy,” Smith said of his read on the play. “Just kind of playing. Just kind of reacting to the route and making a play.”
Smith would add a second interception in the second half. He tied his career high for a season with five.
“Just playing off what they gave us,” he said. “As soon as you start guessing and stuff, you get exposed. Just playing. Fortunate enough to get an opportunity and took advantage of it.”
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL