Vikings coach Mike Zimmer got a Border Battle hat trick, beating the Packers, moving into the playoff picture and landing a successful jab at his hated archrival's defense.
Sunday's 34-31 win at U.S. Bank Stadium included a 9-yard touchdown pass from Kirk Cousins to Justin Jefferson, an all-world receiver who lined up in the backfield as a running back on that third-quarter play.
After the game, Zim was asked if putting Jefferson in the backfield was a creative way of getting the most out of the young man's versatility.
"Everybody knows he's not in there for [pass] protection," Zimmer quipped.
Zimmer probably didn't intend it to be a shot at the Packers or first-year defensive coordinator Joe Barry. If it was, it was a good subtle poke in the eye because Barry's defense was way too dumbfounded by the play.
Cornerback Rasul Douglas and safety Henry Black both covered Adam Thielen into the end zone, creating a giant hole for Jefferson. When Jefferson caught the ball at the 3-yard line, Douglas and Black were in the end zone and looked stunned that Jefferson had the ball.
Hard to believe, considering Jefferson has spent his team's two-game winning streak catching 17 of 21 targets for 312 yards and two touchdowns.
"He stresses your defense in so many ways," Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. "It adds another layer when you can move him around, put him in the backfield. All that stuff just adds up. It's tough to defend."
The Packers went into the game 8-2 and atop the NFC. They ranked third in points allowed and were coming off a shutout win against Seattle.
Their inept red-zone defense reared its ugly head once again and negated everything that was good, including a day when Aaron Rodgers threw for 385 yards, four touchdowns, no turnovers and a 148.4 passer rating.
The Vikings scored touchdowns on their first three trips into the red zone. Their fourth and final trip, they took a knee before Greg Joseph kicked the game-winning 29-yard field goal as time expired.
On the first trip into the red zone, Dalvin Cook basically walked 1 yard untouched into the end zone, following fullback C.J. Ham between left tackle Christian Darrisaw and left guard Ezra Cleveland. The second trip ended with Thielen easily juking a defender for a 10-yard touchdown on third-and-goal — three snaps after a third-down red-zone interception was wiped out by a roughing-the-passer penalty on Kingsley Keke.
"We know what we got to do defensively," said outside linebacker Preston Smith, who had two sacks. "We weren't ourselves today."
Actually, in the red zone, they were right about at their woeful 29th-ranked selves (73.1%).
Through six games, Packers opponents were 15-for-15 in red-zone touchdowns. It was the first time in at least 40 years an NFL team went the first six weeks without a red-zone stop.
Green Bay then held Washington to 0-for-4 in Week 7, but the next four opponents have gone 8-for-11.
Granted, Jefferson is tough to defend. Just ask Green Bay's Davante Adams, the best receiver in the league.
"I wasn't expecting [Jefferson] to do that against us, but he did what he's been doing pretty consistently," Adams said. "He's fun to watch. He's a great player. I got a lot of respect for him. But I don't want to watch him no more looking like that against us."
Suddenly, the Packers are only 2 ½ games ahead of the Vikings in the division and have to play a Rams team coming off its bye week. A Rams team that's ninth in the NFL in red-zone offense.
The Vikings rematch is Jan. 2 at Lambeau Field. Perhaps the Packers won't be as confused if Jefferson lines up in the backfield again.
"Shoot," Jefferson said. "I lined up there at LSU. Actually ran the same exact route, the choice route. Crazy."
Maybe not that crazy. After all, as Zimmer zinged, "Everybody knows he's not in there for [pass] protection."
At least everybody should have known where the ball was going.