A wild duel between the two teams, in late-summer heat at Lambeau Field on Sunday, had heroics: Aaron Rodgers’ resourcefulness while playing with a bulky brace on his left knee, and a 425-yard performance from Kirk Cousins, who engineered a frantic comeback that teased years of great fun in this rivalry now that the Vikings appear equipped to handle themselves in shootouts.
And this being the season of consternation over the NFL’s new rules, the game had moments that left both fan bases outraged: a dubious roughing-the-passer penalty on Eric Kendricks and a lack of holding calls on the Packers offensive line that irked coach Mike Zimmer, and a roughing call on Clay Matthews that wiped out what would have been a game-sealing interception for Packers rookie Jaire Alexander.
In the end, though — particularly if Sunday’s 29-29 tie proves costly to the postseason prospects of either team — both the Vikings and Packers might recall the game with rueful visions of missed opportunities.
“I’m proud of my team and the way we fought back,” Zimmer said. “We started ourselves in a hole. We had a punt blocked for a touchdown. We can play a lot better than we did defensively today. … But I thought we fought our rear ends off and came back with a couple of opportunities to win the football game there. It’s disappointing when you have the opportunity to win and you come up with a tie. It’s better than a loss, obviously, but I’m proud of the guys.”
The Vikings’ special teams problems, which loomed large enough to trigger a punter switch before the season, resurfaced Sunday in the form of a blocked Matt Wile punt that Josh Jackson caught for the Packers’ first touchdown of the day, and three missed Daniel Carlson field goals. Two came in overtime, including a 35-yarder on the game’s final play.
“It feels terrible,” Carlson said. “I I let my team down. Credit to them because they fought back time and time again. They gave me opportunities. It is disappointing for me personally. The team fought so hard. We expect to win that, and I expect to make those kicks to win the game for the team. That last one was probably more just confidence after missing twice early. That’s frustrating. That shorter one I should never miss like that.”
The Packers’ inability to finish drives — and the fact they settled for five Mason Crosby field goals — put the Vikings in position to rally from a nine-point deficit with 7:35 to play and still tie the score after a Cousins interception with 2:04 left appeared to have ended it. Crosby’s only miss of the day, from 52 yards, cost the Packers a chance to win the game at the end of regulation.
As it turned out, the game’s final points belonged to the Vikings, as Cousins drove to tie a game that had appeared lost minutes earlier.
When the quarterback’s pass ricocheted off Laquon Treadwell’s hands and into the waiting arms of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, the Packers took over on the Vikings 13 with 2:04 left. They gave the ball back just 19 seconds later, after some puzzling clock management from coach Mike McCarthy and a Crosby field goal that extended their lead to eight.
Cousins got a reprieve when officials called Matthews for roughing the passer, wiping out Alexander’s interception off a deep pass to Stacy Coley. Referee Tony Corrente told a pool reporter after the game that Matthews was flagged for picking Cousins up and driving him to the ground.
Given new life, Cousins drove the Vikings 75 yards in eight plays, finding Adam Thielen for the score behind two defenders as Mike Daniels hit him in the knees. Then, Cousins hit Stefon Diggs for a tying two-point conversion with 31 seconds left.
Asked if the situation weighed on him, Cousins said: “I’ve learned not to think like that. I’ve learned to get the first down, find the completion, read the coverage — if it’s single high and it’s dragging — I’m going to work where I’m going to work. Just try to progress down the field gradually and take it one play at a time. It’s cliché, but that’s the way it works for me.”
The Vikings won the coin toss in overtime, but their first drive stalled at the Packers 31 when Cousins missed Treadwell on second down and the receiver couldn’t haul in Cousins’ third-down pass. Carlson pushed a 49-yarder wide right, and after the Vikings defense turned the Packers out of field goal range, they reached the Packers 36 by the two-minute warning.
Cousins hit Diggs for 6 yards, but the Vikings ran Latavius Murray twice, choosing to give Carlson a chance to kick one from the middle of the field rather than trying for the end zone.
“Guys are supposed to do their jobs,” Zimmer said. “Maybe we should have thrown a ball into the end zone a couple times at the end, but I believed that the guy was going to make the kick. He said to put it in the middle of the field, and I put it dead smack in the middle. In practice every day, he drills them. So that’s the disappointing thing for me — we come out here and we do that.”
And in the end, a game the Vikings seemed to have lost turned into one they should have won.