Mike Zimmer’s defense has been painted — justifiably at times — as the primary cause for concern that could short-circuit the Vikings’ playoff hopes.
The narrative changed in startling fashion Monday night.
Vikings fans, who do your trust less at the moment: the defense or the offense? The answer is no longer clear cut.
The offense wears a bull’s-eye in examining the carnage of a 23-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers in an NFC North-clinching beatdown at U.S. Bank Stadium.
The defense was mostly game, but the offense put forth a performance that was nothing short of putrid. Just amazingly inept.
How’s this for salt in the wounds: In the first half, the Vikings defense forced three turnovers, held the Packers to nine points and watched Aaron Rodgers look completely out of sorts with some wild throws.
The Vikings still lost by double digits.
Can’t blame the defense this time.
“We started off pretty strong as a defense,” defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo said. “The second half we were on the field too long and eventually I think guys were getting tired. It was battle of defense and Green Bay played better than us on defense.”
True, but the game was lost in the first half when the Vikings defense either bailed the offense out or put their colleagues in favorable position with little to show for it.
The Vikings managed only seven first downs. Total. For the game.
Their inability to sustain anything put the defense in a bind. They needed to be perfect, and they weren’t.
The Packers held the ball for 37 minutes, 32 seconds, which was ridiculously one-sided ball control. At point in the third quarter, the Packers had doubled up the Vikings in time of possession, 28 minutes to 14.
The Vikings defense ran out of gas, and the Packers pounced with a backbreaking 56-yard touchdown run by Aaron Jones that felt like a walk-off home run.
“We weren’t consistent enough in the second half,” linebacker Anthony Barr said.
An ominous tone was set in the first half despite a 10-9 halftime lead. The defense collected three takeaways and held Rodgers to a 59.9 rating on 30 pass attempts and only managed to turn that into 10 points.
Barr caused a fumble on the opening series, which Eric Kendricks returned to the Green Bay 10. The Vikings did the bare minimum with that gift, settling for a short field goal, which felt deflating because a touchdown would have sent a revved crowd over the top.
The Packers entered the game with the second-fewest turnovers in the NFL with only nine in 14 games. They had three in the first 30 minutes against a defense that collected seven takeaways against the Los Angeles Chargers a week ago.
They even forced Rodgers into a rare interception on the first play of the second quarter. Safety Anthony Harris chased Davante Adams across the field, then undercut the route to bait Rodgers into the interception. Rodgers had zero interceptions in his previous eight games, a stretch of 265 attempts without a pick.
Rodgers missed a few throws that he usually makes with his eyes closed. One came on the final offensive play of the first half.
The Packers had the ball at the 1-yard line with seven seconds on the clock. Rodgers’ pass was slightly off the mark but still catchable, but Adams dropped what should have been a touchdown, causing the Green Bay Packers to settle for the short field goal.
The defense simply didn’t get enough help. They were on the field too long, which isn’t a smart blueprint against Rodgers, even if it wasn’t a vintage Rodgers’ performance.
Ten points, seven first downs and 139 yards of offense isn’t good enough to beat any opponent.
“That’s a tough one, especially when we came out so hot with three turnovers” defensive end Stephen Weatherly said. “I thought we had the momentum. We just have to execute in all phases.”