Green Bay improved to 12-3 in a successful first season as an NFL head coach for Matt LaFleur. After so much talk before the season about the relationship between LaFleur and quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the Packers are vying with the San Francisco 49ers, New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks for NFC supremacy. Green Bay currently is the conference’s No. 2 seed.
“Winning is always beautiful,” Rodgers told ESPN after the game, “and defense wins NFC North championships.”
Rodgers threw an interception, only his third of the season, as part of a three-turnover first half for the Packers. Jones and wide receiver Davante Adams lost fumbles. Those gaffes led to 10 points for the Vikings, via a field goal and a touchdown pass from Cousins to wide receiver Stefon Diggs.
But the Packers, held to a trio of first-half field goals by kicker Mason Crosby, took the lead on Jones’s 12-yard touchdown in the third quarter. He added a 56-yard touchdown dash in the fourth quarter and has 16 rushing touchdowns on the season.
“I think the run game was excellent tonight,” Rodgers said. “We had 180 yards [actually 184] or so. Aaron was fantastic. We’ve got to find a way to win. They all count the same if you win. So [it was] a good one for us. We’ll rest up this week — a chance to play for something even bigger next week and make [playoff opponents] come to Green Bay.”
Rodgers completed 26 of 40 passes for 216 yards. Jones ran for 154 yards, and Adams had 13 catches for 116 yards for Green Bay.
Cousins and the Minnesota offense struggled all night. Cousins’s career record in Monday night games dropped to 0-9. He threw an interception as part of a 16-for-31, 122-yard passing night.
“Our defense played at a very high level tonight,” Cousins said at his postgame news conference. “Certainly they played well enough for us to win the football game. But we just weren’t able to put it all together.”
The $84 million quarterback has been far more successful for the Vikings this season than he was in Year 1 in Minnesota. But the Monday night issues have persisted.
Cousins was sacked five times. Za’Darius Smith had 3.5 sacks for Green Bay. The Vikings managed only seven first downs and 139 yards of total offense. The running game was practically nonexistent, as the absence of injured tailback Dalvin Cook was glaring. Wide receiver Adam Thielen was held without a catch. A 53-yard touchdown strike from Cousins to wideout Olabisi Johnson with just than four minutes remaining was nullified by a holding penalty.
“When you don’t convert third downs, go three and out, you just don’t have that many plays, that many bites at the apple to get going,” Cousins said. “We certainly did not play well enough from start to finish tonight.”
The Vikings lost for the first time at home this season and dropped to 10-5. They already had clinched a playoff spot in the NFC and now will be a wild-card team and the No. 6 seed.
“That’s what happens,” Coach Mike Zimmer said, “when you don’t play as good as you can.”
But unlike last season, there will be a playoff appearance for Cousins and the Vikings. And there are no Monday night games during the postseason.
“Certainly the Packers beat us tonight,” Cousins said. “We’ve got to go back and look at how, why. 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. So we’ll have to study that. And that would be the silver lining, is just learning from the mistakes.”
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