GREEN BAY, Wisc. — The effort was there, but the execution at critical spots of the field wasn’t.
Subpar results on offense and defense in the red zone stung Minnesota on Sunday in a 21-16 loss at Green Bay.
The Packers reached the red zone on each of their first three possessions and finished each drive with a touchdown in building a 21-point lead in a little more than a quarter.
The Vikings, conversely, advanced the ball inside the 20-yard line two times and managed just three points out of the red zone trips.
Pregame question: How would Minnesota handle its first in-game adversity of 2019?
The Packers caught the Vikings with a “miscommunication” on the first play of the game for a 39-yard gain on a pass from Aaron Rodgers to Davante Adams. A screen pass three plays later went for a 15-yard touchdown from Rodgers to Jamaal Williams.
After a missed field goal by Minnesota, Green Bay put together an 11-play drive that covered 63 yards and ended with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Geronimo Allison, who was working in the slot against Nate Meadors, a rookie defensive back who was added to the 53-man roster this week.
“Typically, we’re pretty good in the red zone, but today we weren’t good enough,” Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said. “They found some of our substitution guys and hit them early. We had to make some adjustments.”
(The Vikings were without first-team nickel defensive back Mackensie Alexander, who suffered an elbow injury in Week 1, and Mike Hughes is still working his way back from a torn ACL injury).
The Packers needed to go just 33 yards to go up 21-0 after Kirk Cousins fumbled while being sacked. Cousins had fumbled on the previous play during a scramble, but rookie Irv Smith, Jr., recovered that one.
It was no dice on the second, and the Packers piled on with a 15-yard reception to Adams against Rhodes on the ensuing play. A 9-yard run and a 7-yard pass put the ball at the 2, and Green Bay plowed in with a 2-yard run by Aaron Jones.
A career-long 75-yard touchdown run by Dalvin Cook just 16 seconds later gave the Vikings a much-needed jolt.
The defense adjusted and recovered a fumble by Allison on the next possession, forced four three-and-outs, came up with a stop on a fourth-and-1 and didn’t allow points for the final 46 minutes.
The offense was able to get a few more big plays, but they were overshadowed by penalties.
After a 61-yard catch-and-run by Chad Beebe placed the ball at the Green Bay 3 with less than two minutes left in the first half, a touchdown pass from Cousins to Stefon Diggs was challenged by officials and overturned because of a pass interference that was added against Dalvin Cook.
The drive stalled and ended with a 31-yard field goal to make it 21-10 with 0:51 remaining in the first half.
Minnesota scored on its second possession of the second half, erasing an offensive pass interference call against Thielen on a 42-yard throw to the end zone a play after Minnesota recovered a fumbled snap.
The Vikings rebounded when Cousins connected with Diggs for a 45-yard touchdown on third-and-13.
Diggs, however, was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after the play because he took off his helmet before leaving the field. The ensuing PAT was from a distance of 48 yards and blocked.
The Vikings defense kept stymying the Packers offense, keeping it a one-score margin.
Minnesota had a golden opportunity in the fourth quarter, advancing the ball to the Green Bay 8 for a first-and-goal, but Cousins took a shot at trying to hit Diggs in the end zone, and Kevin King came down with the football.
The costly interception with 5:10 left in the game occurred after gains of 8, 3 and 14 on the ground. It proved to be the final scoring opportunity of the day.
“I shouldn’t put [Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski] in that position,” Cousins said. “I should throw the ball away and move to the next down. We had run the ball well. That’s a huge positive for the first two weeks of the season, a huge improvement is running the football well. When you do that, you can win games, so I’m encouraged by how well we ran the football in the first two games. I think that’s something that will serve us well going forward.”
On the slow start
“We knew they’d start fast. They didn’t start fast last week, so we figured they would. They caught us in a couple of things, and we were a little banged up in the secondary, so we made some adjustments.” — Zimmer
“We didn’t start out very well defensively, had a 21-point deficit to start the game. We fought hard but we didn’t play well enough to win. A lot of dumb penalties. The penalty after the touchdown was just selfish, and we ended up getting the extra point blocked.” — Zimmer
“You can’t start that way and put your team in that deficit. You have to make the plays and get those first downs and all your team to play football. Obviously going down 21-0, we battled back and I’m proud of the team for that. But there’s so many things we have to learn from and so many things we have to fix fast.” — Receiver Adam Thielen
“We had to make up for how we played early on. Proud of the way we played the rest of the game … shut them down for the most part … but it was too little, too late.” — Linebacker Anthony Barr
On the interception in the end zone occurring on first down
“It makes it all the worse. It makes it more unacceptable to do that on first down. It was just uncalled for. There’s no justification, there’s no defense that needs to be made. It was unacceptable to put my team in a terrible position. We had worked so hard to get down there, had a great chance to take the lead and win the game. It just slipped out of our hands.” — Cousins
On not making critical plays
“Yeah, there are certainly certain plays that are more significant when the outcome goes your way or doesn’t go your way, and third downs are one of them and red zone plays. Obviously, those today were not good enough, with the interception in the red zone and there were a couple of third downs that were really tough not to hit. One was to Adam on the sideline early in the game in the first half, and the other was a deep one to Stefon that was overthrown by a few yards. That’s tough because you feel like if you hit that, maybe he scores, maybe we’re first-and-goal from the 5, or whatever it is. It changes the flow of the game. Those are ones you are really frustrated about when you’re walking to the sideline.” — Cousins