Welcome to the Monday edition of The Cooler, where it’s a single-subject kind of day because one could write a book about Sunday’s Vikings/Packers 29-29 tie. Let’s get to it:
The Vikings put themselves in a position to win on a day when their defense was OK but not great and their special teams let them down in almost every way imaginable because they suddenly and finally seem to have a quarterback who is robust and can make up for other shortcomings.
The Packers put themselves in a position to win despite the fact that their all-world quarterback was suddenly fragile. Aaron Rodgers was still good, no doubt, but special teams and defense would have told the story of a win if not for a borderline (at best) penalty on Clay Matthews or a missed field goal by Mason Crosby.
This is unfamiliar territory. Since Mike Zimmer became head coach of the Vikings in 2014, the recipe has been simple: The Vikings win when they contain (or don’t have to face) Rodgers, and the Packers win when Rodgers thrives. Each team has won four games against the other. The Vikings have held the Packers to 14 points or fewer in their wins, while Green Bay has scored at least 24 in its wins.
With Kirk Cousins robust and Rodgers fragile Sunday, the script changed. That the result was a tie shouldn’t diminish the fact that both should be encouraged by elements of the result.
Before you get too upset, dear Packers fans, my working definition of “fragile” (and the opposite, which we’ll get to in a minute, “antifragile”) comes from Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s excellent book “Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder,” which I’ve had the pleasure to read recently.
Something fragile is weakened by stress, chaos and disorder. In one sense, Rodgers is being tough and strong by playing through a knee injury. But in a playing sense, he is suddenly fragile because his skill set — including his ability to move, which is one of his greatest assets — is diminished. He still had good numbers against blitzes Sunday, but bad blitzes aren’t chaos. They make things easier for a quarterback.
The thing Rodgers could not do nearly as well Sunday as he normally could is extend plays and actually improve them as they broke down. He was fragile to chaos.
If you’re a Vikings fan who believes in the potential for an unpleasant eternal afterlife, that scenario likely involves watching on an infinite loop Rodgers flushed out of the pocket and buying time before zinging a dart to an open receiver.
In that way, a healthy and young Rodgers as a quarterback is anti-fragile. He doesn’t merely survive such chaotic conditions — a property that might be described as solid or resilient — but rather thrives, gains strength and improves from them.
This is what makes Rodgers (and a handful of other QBs, including Russell Wilson) so dangerous. It’s soul-crushing for an opponent to play against a foe like that.
Because of his knee injury, Rodgers played more like a conventional quarterback — something our own Ben Goessling theorizes could become more of the norm as Rodgers, 34, ages and tries to extend his career.
Where Green Bay should be encouraged is that it showed Sunday that it could have (and should have) won with that version of Rodgers. Without the penalty to Matthews, Cousins would have finished with fewer than 300 yards passing, been intercepted on his final two passes of the game and held to 21 points. The Packers will need to be well-rounded going forward, or this NFC North race could be awfully lopsided for the next few years.
Where the Vikings should be encouraged is that they showed they have a QB who can match Rodgers throw-for-throw. When given that Matthews reprieve, Cousins led a third TD drive of the fourth quarter, capping it with a bullet to Adam Thielen for the touchdown and a perfectly placed toss to Stefon Diggs for the conversion. Cousins finished with 425 yards and four touchdowns, numbers we just aren’t used to seeing from Vikings QBs.
Both teams are kicking themselves for not winning. Both teams are lucky they didn’t lose. And both teams should be encouraged by the way the rivalry tilted Sunday.