1. Second-and-short helped Packers
With three first-half takeaways, the Vikings defense played well enough long enough to win in Monday night’s 23-10 loss to the Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium. But one area it came up lacking was first down. The Packers faced second-and-5 or fewer yards 14 times in 27 tries before taking knees at the end. They had second-and-3 or fewer yards six times. Combine that with a Vikings offense that went AWOL, and it adds up to the Packers holding the ball for 37 minutes, 32 seconds. The double-whammy backfield of Aaron Jones (154 yards rushing, two touchdowns) and Jamaal Williams played a huge role on first down. For the game, they had 33 touches for 212 yards. Jones and Williams went into Monday’s game with a combined 371 touches for 1,916 yards and 23 touchdowns.
2. Defense has right to be ticked off
The Packers had turned the ball over eight times in 14 games before Monday night. Eight. The Vikings got their first takeaway on the game’s third snap. They got their third takeaway before the game was 26 minutes old. And they led only 10-6 after the offense turned those takeaways into two scoring drives totaling 31 yards and a turnover on downs after gaining only 4 yards near midfield. The Vikings went into Monday’s game with the NFL’s longest home winning streak, six games. They were allowing 14.2 points per game and winning by an average margin of 13.5 points. Only two visiting teams — the Eagles (20) and Broncos (23)— had reached 20 points. Two teams — the Redskins (nine) and Lions (seven) — failed to reach 10. Only eight of the 23 passing touchdowns allowed had come at U.S. Bank Stadium.
3. Diggs strikes again
Ten of Kirk Cousins’ 12 first-half passes (4-for-12) looked nervous, tight and pretty awful. So did the ill-advised gadget-play overthrow by Stefon Diggs to Cousins on third down after the defense notched its third takeaway. (Did Mike Zimmer really sign off on that one when it was called?) But the Vikings led 10-9 at the half in part because Cousins did throw a perfect ball to a tightly covered Diggs for a 21-yard touchdown. Diggs had two first-half catches for 29 yards. His first catch of the second half was a 28-yarder on third-and-18. Diggs has played the Packers nine times. He has eight touchdown catches. Before Monday night, Diggs had done most of this year’s damage in the previous four home games before Monday night. In four victories, he had 25 catches for 523 yards (130.8 average) and four of his five touchdowns.
4. This time, Vikings pounce
What a difference 14 weeks and a change of venue made. Like Week 2’s 21-16 loss in Green Bay, the Vikings won the coin toss. Like Week 2, they deferred. But unlike Week 2, when they trailed 7-0 after four snaps, Anthony Barr forced a fumble on the third snap. Eric Kendricks returned it 24 yards to give the Vikings first-and-goal at the 10 only one minute into the game. A terrible overthrow by Cousins to C.J. Ham on third down forced the Vikings to settle for a 23-yard field goal. Heading into Week 16, the Packers ranked second in first-drive points with 49. Only the Ravens, with 61, had more. The Vikings defense, meanwhile, went into Week 16 having allowed only two touchdowns and 20 points in 14 first-possession drives. Opponents had punted eight times (one blocked) and turned the ball over once.
5. Bailey perfect at U.S. Bank Stadium
Knock on wood if you must, but it appears the Vikings have a kicker they can trust heading into the postseason. (Yeah, we know. Gary Anderson was literally perfect in 1998 before, well, you know.) Bailey made his only two placekicks of the game Monday. He was good from 23 yards on an opening-drive field goal. And he made his only PAT of the game. Heading into Monday night’s game, Bailey had made all 28 of his placekicks at U.S. Bank Stadium. He was 19-for-19 on PATs and 9-for-9 on field goals. On the road, he has missed four of 23 PATs and two of 15 field-goal attempts. Bailey’s .917 field-goal percentage is the best he’s had since leading the league with a .938 percentage while with the Cowboys in 2015. Before Monday’s game, Bailey’s .871 career percentage ranked sixth in NFL history.