Here are five things we learned from that game:
Even though the game was a tie, the result skewed in favor of the Vikings.
For reasons that I will expand upon shortly, both teams could have reasonably thought that they should have come away with the victory in Sunday’s game, which ended in a 29-29 tie. But the result actually sets up a slight advantage for the Vikings in the competitive NFC North race. The Vikings didn’t lose at Lambeau Field, with the rematch coming on their home turf the last Sunday of November.
The way they didn’t lose was perhaps more important, as Kirk Cousins had his first statement game as Minnesota’s quarterback. Cousins led the Vikings back from a 20-7 deficit entering the fourth quarter, playing great in the process: He finished 35-for-48 passing for 425 yards and four touchdowns. Twenty-one of those completions, 259 of those yards and three of the touchdowns went to his top two wide receivers, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.
The fact that Cousins could go into Lambeau and battle head-to-head with Aaron Rodgers, even though Rodgers is limited by his knee injury, is a very positive sign for the Vikings. In what figures to be an extremely close battle for the division title and possibly a first-round bye or top seed overall in the conference, Minnesota got a slight leg up Sunday.
Rodgers was excellent, but this knee injury is going to limit him.
The Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson proved two things in 2016: It is possible for a quarterback to play through a medial collateral ligament sprain (the same kind Rodgers suffered in Green Bay’s season opener against Chicago), but it does create limitations for a QB’s mobility.
Rodgers was great despite his mobility limitations Sunday, completing 30 of 42 passes for 281 yards and a touchdown. He was also sacked four times, and on a crucial second-down play in overtime, he lost his footing on an apparent zone-read play that derailed what could have been a game-winning scoring drive.
There is no doubting Rodgers’s greatness, and no one seems to have any questions that he will continue to play through the pain. Rodgers in a limited capacity still gives Green Bay an advantage against almost any team in the league. But in a division with a razor-thin margin for error, and a very competitive NFC overall (as I’ve mentioned before, the conference is loaded with high-level quarterback play), the injury could be a deciding factor. The winner of the NFC North will be in the mix for a first-round bye. The second-place finisher will play an opening-round playoff game on the road.
The rules protecting quarterbacks are becoming a problem.
The NFL’s competition committee knows the importance of quarterbacks in a passing-driven league. The Packers dropped out of the playoff race after Rodgers broke his collarbone last year, and the Vikings assumed control of the NFC North. The rule change to penalize defenders for landing on quarterbacks with all or most of their body weight goes back to Minnesota linebacker Anthony Barr’s hit on Rodgers.
The new rule has overtaken the helmet-hitting rule as the most confusing and talked-about in the league through two weeks, and, as The Post’s Mark Maske writes, it might have cost Green Bay the win.
Late in the fourth quarter. Packers linebacker Clay Matthews rushed Cousins, lowering his shoulder and driving into the quarterback. What appeared to be a textbook tackle drew a penalty flag, canceling out a Cousins interception that could have sealed a victory for the Packers, who at the time led 29-21 with 1:37 left in regulation. Given the second chance, Cousins drove for the game-tying touchdown and two-point conversion.
Matthews said he couldn’t believe it.
“I don’t know what else to do,’’ Matthews said after the game. “Did I put pressure on him? I thought I hit him within from his waist to chest, got my head across, put my hands down. To call it at that point in the game is just unbelievable. . . . You see how it changed the game. I know there’s an emphasis on protecting quarterbacks, but it’s gotten out of control.’’
Referee Tony Corrente said the call had nothing to do with new body weight rule and that he instead believed Matthews picked up the quarterback and drove him into the ground. Regardless, the call has created increased discussion over whether the additional rules put in place to protect quarterbacks have gone too far and are now affecting the outcomes of games.
It was the second tie game in two weeks, creating another potential issue for the league.
As if the QB-hitting-rule controversy wasn’t enough, the Packers-Vikings tie put in question for a second consecutive week the rule change to shorten overtime from 15 to 10 minutes.
Rodgers said the tie is close to a loss. Packers wide receiver Geronimo Allison said: “It sucks. This game is about somebody winning and somebody losing.”
The NFL got away from pure sudden-death overtimes when it figured it was fairer to give the other team a chance to tie or win if the team that won the coin toss kicked a field goal on its first possession. Then, for safety reasons, the league shortened the overtime from 15 minutes to 10.
Here’s the problem: When neither team scores on their first possessions, there is little time left for either team to score. Only 3:48 remained in overtime after the Vikings and Packers exhausted their first possessions. Last week, there was 5:29 remaining after two possessions in the Cleveland-Pittsburgh tie. Missed field goals played into both finishes.
Ten games Sunday were decided by eight points or fewer. We could be seeing more ties before the season is out.
Sunday was a really, really bad day for kickers.
After the call against Matthews gave Minnesota new life, and Cousins led the team back to tie the game in regulation, the Vikings really should have come away with the win. But rookie Daniel Carlson had two of his three missed field goals in overtime, part of an overall atrocious day for the position across the league.
Kickers missed 11 field goals and seven extra points. Zane Gonzalez had a complete meltdown in the Browns’ 21-18 loss to the Saints, missing two field goals and two extra points. Most people around Cleveland think Gonzalez will be let go, and Carlson is probably in a similar position. I was on the sidelines for Minnesota’s preseason game against Seattle, when Carlson missed two field goals, and Vikings Coach Mike Zimmer was furious on the sideline.
Here are a few more key story lines coming out of Week 2:
— Two AFC teams established themselves as bona fide contenders following strong performances from their quarterbacks. Blake Bortles outplayed Tom Brady in the Jacksonville Jaguars’ 31-20 victory over the New England Patriots, throwing for 377 yards and four touchdowns without an interception and with running back Leonard Fournette (hamstring injury) out. With a defense that features eight Pro Bowl picks and a budding Pro Bowl player in linebacker Myles Jack, the Jaguars just need Bortles not to screw up things with turnovers. All of a sudden, Jacksonville has the look of a team that could secure a No. 1 seed.
But then again, so do the Kansas City Chiefs, led by rising star Patrick Mahomes. He has been one of the league’s best quarterback in the first two weeks, completing 38 of 55 passes for 582 yards and 10 touchdowns. His quarterback rating is a staggering 143.3. The Chiefs are averaging 40 points a game with wins over the Los Angeles Chargers and the Pittsburgh Steelers — both of which came on the road. His six TD tosses Sunday had the league buzzing.
— And then there is Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has beaten the New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles in his first two weeks as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ starting quarterback. The way he’s playing, there is no way Jameis Winston gets back his starter’s job after his suspension ends next week. Fitzpatrick is completing 78.7 percent of is passes and has posted a 151.5 quarterback rating.
— Could any team have more halftime drama than the Buffalo Bills? Cornerback Vontae Davis retired at the half, leaving his teammates furious, and Coach Sean McDermott took the play-calling away from defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier before the start of the third quarter.
The Bills are a mess. Their loss to the Los Angeles Chargers had a final score of 31-20, but they were down 28-6 at the half. They were routed by Baltimore, 47-3, last week. They can’t get off the NFL RedZone channel. In the first six quarters, they gave up nine red-zone touchdowns.
— Then there are the Arizona Cardinals, who also appear not to be competitive. They lost to the Los Angeles Rams, 34-0 and are getting nothing out of their offense. The Cardinals have six points in two games and are averaging 175 yards per game on offense. Playing rookie quarterback Josh Rosen wasn’t a consideration Sunday, according to Coach Steve Wilks, but you’ve got to think he’s getting closer to replacing Sam Bradford.
— The seven new head coaches went 0-7 in Week 1, and they were 2-4 in Week 2 entering Monday night’s game between the Seahawks and Chicago Bears, who are led by first-year Coach Matt Nagy. Pat Shurmur’s New York Giants couldn’t protect Eli Manning. Matt Patricia had a better day than his horrible Detroit Lions opener, but he still lost to the San Francisco 49ers. The Cardinals were shut out. And the Oakland Raiders blew a great performance by Derek Carr (29 for 32 for 288 yards) in a 20-19 loss to the Denver Broncos. Afterward, Gruden said he might have to blitz more to get pressure on the quarterback. Not trading Khalil Mack might have helped.
— It wouldn’t be surprising if the 49ers acquired Josh Gordon, whom the Browns are giving up. San Francisco wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (quad) missed Sunday’s game, and Coach Kyle Shanahan knows about Gordon’s talent from their season together in Cleveland.