GREEN BAY, WIS. – The Vikings' first trip to Lambeau Field with Mike Zimmer as head coach came eight years ago, when they arrived without their starting quarterback available, fell far behind by halftime and watched the Packers relax for much of the second half.
Fifteen meetings later, at the end of a stretch where Zimmer's defenses have often proved a worthy foil for Aaron Rodgers, the Vikings lost 37-10 in a Sunday night defeat that looked like a bookend for Zimmer's first loss at Lambeau.
Time will tell whether the defeat in Green Bay was his last.
The Vikings' playoff hopes were euthanized Sunday night, in a defeat that felt like an anthology of their worst moments against their hated rival. With Kirk Cousins on the COVID-19 list, the Sean Mannion-led Vikings offense didn't surpass 100 yards until the end of the third quarter. Rodgers hit Davante Adams eight times for 118 yards and a touchdown in the first half alone, before Zimmer made the decision for Patrick Peterson to shadow Adams in the second half.
The 27-point loss matched the eighth-worst loss to the Packers in Vikings history, tying two losses Minnesota took in 1962 (its second season) to Vince Lombardi's second championship team. It was the fifth-most lopsided defeat in Zimmer's eight seasons, and his worst since the Vikings' 38-7 loss in the NFC Championship Game four years ago.
"I didn't feel like we gave ourselves a chance to win," Zimmer said in a postgame news conference that lasted just over three minutes. "The first half kind of got away from us, time of possession. We didn't move the ball really at all. We got away from the running game way too soon, and then in the second half, we didn't play well enough defensively, so give them credit. They're a good team, and they got after us."
The loss eliminated the Vikings from the NFC playoff race and set up a meaningless season finale for the second year in a row. It is the fifth time in eight seasons the Vikings have missed the playoffs in General Manager Rick Spielman and Zimmer's time working together.
After building a 20-3 led in the first half, the Packers leaned on their running game to pull away in the fourth quarter, when A.J. Dillon plowed through the Vikings defense for a pair of touchdowns.
Rodgers completed 20 of his 25 passes in the first half for 211 yards and two touchdowns, filleting a Vikings secondary that offered him plenty of matchups to pick from with Peterson not shadowing Adams.
The Packers also ran for 88 yards in the first half, with Aaron Jones breaking two runs of more than 25 yards in a game for the first time in his career. Things might have been even more lopsided in the first half if the Packers hadn't settled for two field goals early in the game; tight end Josiah Deguara dropped a touchdown pass on Green Bay's second possession after splitting the Vikings' two-safety look with a route up the middle on Green Bay's first possession.
It was the kind of offensive performance that would require a masterful answer from the Vikings. Playing without Cousins, they came out tentative.
They opted to start veteran Mannion, whom they'd signed at the end of the preseason, over rookie Kellen Mond, believing the third-round pick could struggle in a prime-time game in frigid temperatures against the NFC's top seed. But after coach Mike Zimmer said Mannion would handle his opportunity well, the Vikings could not come up with any answer for the Packers.
Mannion ended the first half with 57 yards on 9-for-15 passing; he didn't attempt a pass that traveled longer than 6 yards in the air until the Vikings' final drive of the first half that led to a Greg Joseph field goal.
He finished the night with 22 completions on 36 attempts for 189 yards; Mannion threw the first career touchdown pass at the end of the third quarter to K.J. Osborn, after center Garrett Bradbury caught Adrian Amos' deflection of a throw to Tyler Conklin and rumbled 21 yards for what was the Vikings' longest play of the night at that point.
"It's gut-wrenching for our team; it's gut-wrenching for me personally," Mannion said. "I want to come in here and play the best football I can, and I hope that materializes in wins, and unfortunately it didn't today."
The quarterback ended up with the Vikings' longest run of the night on an 11-yard scramble, as a Packers team that had allowed 499 rushing yards in its past three games held Dalvin Cook to 13 yards on nine carries.
Afterward, Zimmer said he didn't think the Vikings stuck with the run long enough.
"I talked to [offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak] about, 'Hey, we've got to keep giving Dalvin the ball," Zimmer said. "And the first play of the [Vikings' fourth] possession, we get a sack."
After Dillon scored to make it 37-10, the Vikings brought Mond in for a series while the Vikings' medical staff helped Mannion deal with cramps in his throwing hand. Mond went 2-for-3 for 5 yards.
Zimmer said he wasn't particularly interested in seeing the rookie in next week's season finale against the Bears. Why not?
"I see him every week," Zimmer said.
What happens to the Vikings next Sunday against the Bears will pale in importance to the decisions they figure to face at the end of the season, now that they've gone 14-18 following their trip to the divisional playoffs in 2019.
"We talked about it all offseason: Talent everywhere across the board," cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "But we have to go out there and execute at a high level when you're going out on Sundays. We had times of that. We had times where we executed very well, we had times where we had lapses."
The Vikings' first eight losses this season were by one score. Their ninth, the one that would ensure they would miss the playoffs again, offered no dramatic finish.
Instead, as they left Lambeau Field on a frigid night, the Vikings were left to once again stare at the expanse between themselves and the division's standard-bearer.