The Vikings entered Sunday’s showdown with the Green Bay Packers in an unfamiliar position. After five consecutive wins, they were, oh so briefly, the team to beat in the NFC North. And the Packers, having lost three in a row, were supposedly the vulnerable ones.
But a week that began with the confident Vikings sporting “Beat Green Bay!” T-shirts ended with the cheesehead fans from across state lines serenading them with chants of “Go Pack Go!” as the visitors ran out the clock for a 30-13 victory.
In the biggest game of the Mike Zimmer era and with a chance to seize control of the division, the young Vikings came unraveled in the spotlight, with the Packers tugging on the thread.
“The whole country is watching and we didn’t play well at all,” cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. “It seems like every time we get in these types of games, we don’t play well. So we have to learn from this. … We definitely need to fix this to take this team to the next level.”
Sunday’s game, which was broadcast nationwide on Fox, might not have been as big of a dud as the season-opening Monday night loss in San Francisco. But the Vikings did pile up enough mistakes at TCF Bank Stadium for one to build a pretty compelling argument.
One of the NFL’s least penalized teams, they were flagged for a season-high 110 penalty yards. Left tackle Matt Kalil tackled a Packers pass rusher on the first play of the game. Outside linebacker Anthony Barr jumped offsides before one fourth-and-1 snap. Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson head-butted a kicker while down two touchdowns.
Running back Adrian Peterson lost his cool after Packers defenders slammed him down on back-to-back plays. He also lost a fumble as the Vikings tried to rally in the fourth quarter and mustered only 45 rushing yards on 13 carries, his lowest output since Week 1.
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was sacked six times by a Packers defense that had not recorded a sack in nearly a month. He lingered on the turf after a few, most notably the one in the second quarter that sent him to the locker room to get his left shoulder examined.
And Zimmer’s defense, which ranked second in the NFL in points allowed entering Week 11, let the Packers score on six of their first eight possessions.
Despite all the penalties, blown assignments, sacks and missed opportunities, Zimmer was adamant the story should be that the Packers were the better team Sunday.
“I don’t look at this one as [being out of character for the Vikings],” the coach said. “You go back to San Francisco, that was way out of character. This one, we got beat today.”
The Vikings were somehow still in the game after three quarters, but the Packers put it away early in the fourth when quarterback Aaron Rodgers rolled to his right and whizzed a 27-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver James Jones at the edge of the end zone. Cornerback Terence Newman had tight coverage on the play but still had no chance to stop a throw like that.
“I did not think that he would be able to squeeze it in that corner,” Jones said. “Sometimes I forgot he’s on my team or who I’m playing with.”
That touchdown pass, Rodgers’ second of the game, put the Packers up 27-13 and gave them a 10-1-1 record against the Vikings since the start of the 2010 season. Rodgers, who finished with 212 passing yards but completed less than half of his throws, hurt the Vikings yet again with timely completions.
The Packers also got a big lift from supersized running back Eddie Lacy, who rushed for 100 yards on 22 carries. It was his first time in triple digits this season.
In the fourth quarter, the Vikings squandered a couple of prime opportunities to close the gap. There was Peterson’s fumble and the deep ball that Bridgewater threw a half-step ahead of wide receiver Mike Wallace, who had sped behind the Green Bay secondary.
Bridgewater threw for 296 yards, his highest total since Week 7, days after Zimmer had to answer questions from local media about whether Bridgewater was a “game manager.”
“Everybody wants Teddy to throw for 250, 270 yards. Now he did. Yea!’’ the coach said sarcastically after the loss.
The Vikings took a 6-3 lead, their only lead of the game, in the first quarter when Bridgewater threw a 47-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kyle Rudolph, who had a career-high 106 receiving yards.
After a pair of field goals from kicker Mason Crosby, it looked like the Packers would be taking a 9-6 lead into halftime, but Newman was called for a 50-yard defensive pass interference penalty while defending wide receiver Jeff Janis. Rodgers capitalized with a 10-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Randall Cobb with 6 seconds left in the half.
The Packers would run away with the game from there to reclaim the top spot in the NFC North. Both teams have identical 7-3 records, but the victory gave the Packers the tiebreaker. The Vikings will at least get another shot at the Packers in Week 17. But on Sunday, they were nowhere near poised enough to take control of the NFC North.
“If we want to get over the hump and if we want to be champions of the NFC North, that’s who we have to beat,” Rudolph said. “They’re taken our division the last four years and everyone knows that the division goes through there.”