GREEN BAY, Wis. — Aaron Rodgers slapped the metal bench with both hands and shook his head as he stood up to watch the final play of a game that featured more twists than a Daniel Carlson kick.
The Green Bay Packers looked like they would lose after appearing to have the game in hand about five different times Sunday. But a third misfire by the Vikings rookie kicker as time expired in overtime left the Packers in a surly mood in digesting a 29-29 tie at Lambeau Field.
“We found a lot of ways to give that one away,” Rodgers said.
They were mad at themselves, the officials, just about everything.
“I guess it’s better than a loss if you want to be Mr. Optimism,” linebacker Clay Matthews said.
The only reason for optimism from a Packers perspective is that Rodgers played and survived without doing any further damage to his injured left knee.
Listed as questionable before the game, Rodgers didn’t play to his usual standards (he finished with 281 passing yards and one touchdown pass) and was outdueled by Kirk Cousins.
Rodgers wore a large bulky brace on his left knee. He declined to confirm an ESPN report that indicated he has no ligament damage.
“I have a left knee injury, and I’m going to leave it at that,” he said.
The Packers were lucky they didn’t lose but also angry that they didn’t win. They drop-kicked several opportunities to ice the game. And they were justifiably livid over a roughing-the-passer penalty that likely cost them a win.
Green Bay led 29-21 when cornerback Jaire Alexander intercepted Cousins’ deep pass with 1 minute, 45 seconds left in what felt like the final nail.
Instead, Matthews was flagged for roughing Cousins on what looked like a textbook hit. Matthews didn’t violate the new “Aaron Rodgers rule” by landing on Cousins with the majority of his weight, according to referee Tony Corrente in a pool report.
“When he hit the quarterback, he lifted him and drove him to the ground,” Corrente said.
The Packers obviously disagreed.
“I have so many emotions as far as just what a terrible call it was,” Matthews said. “I don’t know what else to do. I thought I hit him in his waist. I got my head across, put my hands down. And to call it at that point in the game is just unbelievable.
“And the worst part is, we’ll send it in [to the NFL for review] and you know what they’re going to say? They’ll find fault on me because they’re going to agree with the refs. You see how it changed the game. I know there’s an emphasis on protecting quarterbacks, but it’s gotten out of control.”
Given new life, Cousins threw a masterful touchdown pass to Adam Thielen and then a two-point conversion to Stefon Diggs to tie the score with 31 seconds left.
“It’s frustrating because the interception is game, right?” Matthews said. “We had opportunities to win the game, no doubt about it. But frustrating to allow a call — when I felt like I did the right thing — to influence the game.”
The NFL’s push for more safety is commendable, but there is too much confusion over what’s legal and what’s not. Players no longer know where that line is.
The Vikings also had every reason to complain about a roughing penalty on Eric Kendricks in the first half on his seemingly clean hit on Rodgers.
“What do you want us to do?” coach Mike Zimmer asked. “Hit them with our shoulder and not fall on them? Hopefully they figure this thing out.”
Matthews’ penalty was a killer, but the Packers had other chances. After making five field-goal attempts, Mason Crosby missed wide left on a 52-yarder as time expired in regulation.
“It went from being my best regular-season game to being a little bummed about that kick,” Crosby said.
They blew another opportunity in overtime with the ball at the Vikings 37. Rodgers fumbled with nobody near him on a run-pass option on second-and-1. Then he was sacked on third down, forcing a punt.
“One hundred percent frustration,” receiver Davante Adams said. “A tie is better than a loss but definitely not happy about it.”