Postgame schadenfreude, Early Christmas Present (or Wasted $84 Million) Edition

Everyone knew something had to give when the Packers went to Minnesota Monday night, given that Aaron Rodgers had never won a game at US Bank Stadium, but Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins had never won a Monday Night Football game.

Rodgers is now off the schneid thanks to a fantastic defensive performance, and the Packers are again where they belong, on top of the NFC North Division after their 23–10 win.

You can imagine how happy they are in the Twin Cities. Actually, you don’t have to imagine that, which is the theme of this blog, starting with the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

The majority of the announced 67,157 in attendance — a record for a Vikings game at U.S. Bank Stadium — had long since filed out on Monday night, save for a group of several dozen Packers fans who congregated above the tunnel in the stadium’s southwest corner. They chanted “Go Pack Go,” cheered the Green Bay players — who emerged on their way to the team bus after dispatching the Vikings 23-10 — and collected autographs from the ones who decided to stop and sign.

Not since the 2018 season (and never for the Vikings’ biggest rivals) had the stadium felt so friendly to a visitor. The Vikings entered the day as the NFL’s only undefeated team at home, facing a Packers team that hadn’t won in the building in three tries. It seemed, as the Purple faithful pushed noise levels toward 120 decibels, the perfect stage for Vikings pass rushers to badger Aaron Rodgers, for the team to stand up to a formidable opponent on a big stage and for the Vikings to make their playoff path more favorable.

Instead, the postseason path for these Vikings will consist entirely of road games after a trivial home finale against the Bears on Sunday. They will be the NFC’s No. 6 seed, learning their postseason destination through the results of other games next week, after their last, best opportunity to stand up tall in the regular season slipped through their fingers.

Despite three first-half takeaways against a Packers offense steeped in self-nullification, the Vikings’ chances for their third NFC North title in five years officially expired. They gained only 139 yards, posted seven first downs all night and held the ball for only 22 minutes, 28 seconds, placing a heavy burden on a defense that eventually broke after playing 75 plays.

Aaron Jones’ second touchdown run of the game — a 56-yard burst off the left side of the Green Bay line — closed out the scoring as the Packers scored 20 consecutive points after falling behind 10-3.

Green Bay ran for 187 yards before three Rodgers kneel-downs, taking some of the workload off its quarterback as he misfired on several passes and watched his receivers drop two others. Without Dalvin Cook, though, the Vikings could manage only 57 yards on the ground, while Kirk Cousins threw for only 122 yards and was intercepted by Kevin King for the second time this year.

The Packers clinched their first NFC North title since 2016 with the victory — their first at U.S. Bank Stadium.

“Honestly today and tomorrow, we should let it sting a little bit,” said linebacker Eric Kendricks, who left because of a quadriceps injury and missed the second half. “We should let it sting. We have to know what we did wrong, watch the film, make corrections and things like that. But we should definitely let it sting, then let it go in 24 hours or so and then get back to work. We’re blessed to be able to play again. We worked hard all season to put ourselves in this position, but we have to play better in these games for sure.”

Cousins, who fell to 0-9 on “Monday Night Football,” threaded a touchdown to Stefon Diggs on a 21-yard throw with Jaire Alexander in tight coverage to put the Vikings up 10-3, but was later picked off on a deep ball to Diggs after King — who intercepted Cousins at the end of the game between the teams in Week 2 — broke from the back side of the play.

ESPN’s cameras captured a sideline exchange between Cousins and Diggs after the play where the quarterback appeared to be saying, “I didn’t see the backside corner” on the interception.

There is something strangely appropriate about the Vikings blowing $84 million on a mediocre quarterback, after they spent $25 million on Sam Bradford, who followed Teddy Bridgewater, who followed Christian Ponder, who followed Donovan McNabb, who followed Brett Favre … you get the picture. Since Favre’s first year with the Packers, the Vikings have had 27 different starting quarterbacks … including Favre.

The other appropriate thing is that this is a metropolitan area that likes to waste money on single-purpose sports stadiums. The Twin Cities have a Vikings-only stadium, Minnesota Gophers-only football stadium (because heaven forbid that the Gophers and Vikings share a football stadium), Minnesota Timberwolves-only basketball arena, Minnesota Wild-only hockey arena, and an outdoor baseball stadium because apparently Minnesotans enjoy buying tickets for games they may not actually watch due to rain or snow. That is $2.4 billion for five stadiums used by five teams, which may be why the basketball Gophers play in a 91-year-old arena.

The Strib’s Jim Souhan:

The Vikings missed Dalvin Cook on Monday night.

They missed Kirk Cousins even more.

The Kirk Cousins who played efficiently and sometimes spectacularly since the end of September did not show up for “Monday Night Football” against the Packers. In his place stood Quirk Cousins, master of the bounce pass.

He was almost as bad as a receiver as he was as a quarterback, pratfalling on a third-down route on a trick play that shouldn’t have been necessary.

Cousins’ reputation had previously been soiled by his prime-time performances, some of which could have been excused because he was playing for the laughingstock NFL franchise in Washington.

This was not that. This was Cousins leading a superior roster for a team that was undefeated at U.S. Bank Stadium and enjoying a stunning run of defensive success.

To win this game, all the Vikings needed was competent quarterback play. They didn’t get it, and unless Cousins can change the way he plays in important games, what happened on Monday night will be remembered as a badly imagined prequel to another playoff failure.

If your quarterback can’t lead in a big game, you’d better learn to be happy with the NFL’s consolation prizes — second place in a four-team division and the last of six NFC seeds.

Asked if Cousins looked shaky early in the game, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said: “You know, it’s hard for me to tell when I’m standing on the sideline. I’ll look at the tape and let you know.’’

No, he won’t.

Asked if he was surprised by Cousins’ erratic play, Zimmer said: “I’m not going to get into this ‘Kirk Cousins on Monday night’ thing. Offensively, we didn’t play as well as we could play, I’ll say that. And defensively, we could have played the run better. So there are a lot of things we need to clean up.’’

Cousins is now 0-9 on Monday nights as an NFL quarterback. That statistic can be explained away only if you didn’t watch him short-arm passes in the first quarter on this Monday night.

This season Cousins has staged a comeback against the Broncos, has beaten the Lions twice, has thrown beautiful passes against the Giants and Raiders.

This year, while leading a quality roster, he has played three games against threatening divisional opponents. He is 0-3, and his play led to all three losses.

He threw a killing, unforced interception at Green Bay in September. He looked overwhelmed against a Bears team that went in the tank as soon as the Vikings left town. And Monday, he put up numbers that would have gotten most Vikings quarterbacks — at least those without guaranteed contracts, or with promising backups — benched.

His final stat line on Monday: 16 completions on 31 attempts, 122 yards, one touchdown, one interception and five sacks. The Vikings amassed 139 yards and seven first downs, less than they would expect in a normal half.

With Cook out with dual shoulder injuries, the Vikings tried to run the ball with Mike Boone, and went nowhere. Suddenly Cousins wasn’t throwing play-action passes against tentative defenses. He would have to beat the Packers with accuracy and nerve. He lacked both.

“We’ve got to go back and look at how and why, and certainly the answers to those questions should be of some help to us going forward,’’ Cousins said.

Most NFL players after most losses speak this way: As if a little more time watching video will make all the difference. But if Cousins’ problem is an inability to perform under duress, study won’t help.

If Cousins is the Vikings’ problem in big games, their problem is incurable. Vikings fans seemed to sense that.

With the Packers ahead 23-10 with less than six minutes remaining in the game, Cousins bounced a throw to Ameer Abdullah, and boos began to rain. The boos grew louder when Zimmer decided to punt rather than going for a first down on fourth-and-24 with less than four minutes remaining.

Zimmer made the right decision. Nobody, at that point, wanted to see another Cousins pass.

The Vikings’ radio flagship, KFAN, passed on this Associated Press story:

Asked during the week about Kirk Cousins’ winless mark on Monday nights, Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer told reporters that if his team lost to Green Bay, it wouldt be because of Cousins, who’s having a career year in his second season with the Vikings.

This lackluster offensive performance might not have fallen solely on Cousins, but the $84 million quarterback was unable to pull the offense out of its lethargy against a stifling Packers n’defense in a 23-10 defeat on Monday night.

Cousins finished 16 for 31 for 122 yards, one touchdown and an interception for a 58.8 quarterback rating. Fair or not, he fell to 0-9 as a starter in his career on Monday night. Far more relevant than the time of kickoff or the day of the week was that Cousins’ two worst games of the season came against the Packers, who clinched the NFC North.

“I’m not going to get into this Kirk Cousins on Monday night thing and all this stuff,” Zimmer said after the game. “Offensively, we didn’t play as well as we could play. I’ll say that, OK. Defensively, we could play the run better. So, there’s a lot of things that we need to clean up.”

Even at home, where they were 6-0 coming into the game, the Vikings had just 139 yards of offense. Their longest drive was 31 yards, they had seven first downs on 13 possessions, and they were 4 of 15 on third down.

“When you don’t convert third downs, go three-and-out, you just don’t have that many plays,” Cousins said. “You don’t have many bites at the apple to get going. We certainly did not play well enough from start to finish tonight.”

They had prime opportunities in the first half, after three takeaways by the defense gave them the ball in Green Bay territory each time.

After Eric Kendricks returned a fumble to the 10-yard line to set up Minnesota’s first possession, Mike Boone ran for 5 yards. Then Cousins threw two incompletions to fullback C.J. Ham, the second thrown too high and hard for Ham to catch as it sailed out of bounds and the Vikings settled for a field goal.

After a rare interception by Aaron Rodgers, Cousins capitalized with a touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs for a 10-3 lead.

“They couldn’t play-action pass,” Packers defensive tackle Kenny Clark said. “That’s their bread and butter. They get easy completions for Kirk Cousins. We got a chance to get him to drop back on third down so we could do our job.”

It wasn’t the first time.

Cousins had a season-low 52.9 passer rating in a 21-16 loss at Green Bay earlier this season, including an interception by Kevin King in the end zone with 5:17 remaining when the Vikings had first-and-goal from the 8.

King intercepted Cousins in this game, too, snaring a deep pass intended for Diggs in the third quarter. The Packers then drove 53 yards in eight plays for the go-ahead touchdown.

“Just trying to bring him across the field, and the backside corner sank,” Cousins said. “So he made the play. I probably shouldn’t have brought him across the field. Either take him vertically or progress on.”

Under duress all night, sacked five times, Cousins couldn’t find many open receivers. Diggs, who’s scored in seven straight games against Green Bay, had three catches for 57 yards. Adam Thielen was held without a catch on four targets.

With the loss, Minnesota was locked into the sixth seed in the NFC playoffs.

“Certainly the Packers beat us tonight, so we’ve got to go back and look at how, why and certainly the answers to those questions, in theory, should be of some help going forward, not just if we play them again but in general,” Cousins said. “So we’ll have to study that, and that will be the silver lining is just learning from the mistakes so they get corrected. Then when games up ahead are being played, they don’t repeat themselves.”

Strangely, the St. Paul Pioneer Press’ Bob Sansevere couldn’t bring himself to be severe enough about the Vikings. He’s correct in that there is no overwhelming team in the NFC, including the Packers, but if that’s the case shouldn’t the Vikings be better than the occupants of the last NFC playoff spot?

The other question that comes to mind is this. By the Packers’ beating the Lions earlier this season and Wisconsin’s wins over Central Michigan, Michigan and Michigan State, Wisconsin owns Michigan. With UW’s win over the Gophers and the Packers’ sweep, does Wisconsin own Minnesota too?

 

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