Things went from opportunistic to out-of-hand quickly Sunday for the Vikings.
A blocked punt and a turnover on downs gave Minnesota an early opportunity to gain control of the tempo against Green Bay on the road. But offensive mistakes made by the Vikings — coupled with multiple injuries to their offensive line — allowed the Packers (8-8) to score 41 unanswered points en route to a 41-17 victory.
"Very disappointed in our performance today, both as players and coaches," Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell said. "I thought some of the plays that were there to be made we didn't make, and clearly we could do a better job coaching. It starts with me giving our guys a chance to try to sustain momentum.
"Even when we did get some defensive stops and/or that blocked punt early on, we weren't able to do enough with those opportunities without self-sabotaging some of those drives offensively," O'Connell added. "[We've] got to find a way to improve, get back to what we've been when we've been able to win some football games by not turning the ball over, play clean and give ourselves a chance to win. We did not do that today."
The loss drops the Vikings (12-4) to the No. 3 seed in the NFC Playoffs after San Francisco (12-4) outlasted Las Vegas (6-10) 37-34 in overtime.
"It's about us, especially after a game like this," linebacker Jordan Hicks said. "It doesn't matter what seed we are, if we play like we just put out on the field, we're not going to beat any team. We've got to tighten up ourselves, focus on us, not start looking elsewhere. It has to be 'How can we fix what we just did?' and 'What's going on and how can we fix it quick?"
Minnesota's special teams provided the early fireworks, as backup safety Josh Metellus blocked Green Bay punter Pat O'Donnell's attempt. It was Metellus' second blocked punt in as many games, and Minnesota took over at the Packers 1-yard line to open its second offensive possession.
But the Vikings couldn't punch it in after three tries and settled for a 21-yard field goal from Greg Joseph.
The very next play, Packers return specialist Keisean Nixon took the ensuing kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown to put Green Bay in front at 7-3 with 10:25 left in the first quarter.
The Vikings defense stood its ground on Green Bay's next possession. On fourth-and-1 from Minnesota's 39-yard line, nose tackle Dalvin Tomlinson sacked Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers for a loss of 16 to give the Vikings the ball at Green Bay's 45.
Four plays later, Green Bay safety Darnell Savage intercepted a pass from quarterback Kirk Cousins and returned it 75 yards for a touchdown to push the Packers lead to 14-3 with 5:09 left in the first quarter.
Green Bay marched all the way down to Minnesota's 3-yard line on its next offensive possession, but the Vikings held the Packers to a 26-yard field goal from kicker Mason Crosby with 9:43 left in the first half.
The Packers next two offensive possessions started at their own 40 after an interception by Cousins and a missed 50-yard field goal by Joseph. Green Bay needed a combined 3:47 to get 10 more points, with three of those coming on a 56-yard field goal by Crosby that hit the crossbar before bouncing through to give the Packers a 27-3 lead at halftime.
Vikings safety Camryn Bynum said the team's mindset in the locker room at the break was to press forward, but the defense wasn't able to do its part to help Minnesota get back into the game.
"There's a lot of stuff all year that's been out of our control, but there's been times where we have to be in control of our own thing," Bynum said. "At times we did and at times we didn't, and regardless of what mistakes were made in the other phases — 41 points for the whole team — giving that up is never good enough. We've got to look at ourselves as a defense and on every end. Regardless of what happened in any other phase, we've got to do our part."
Similar to its comeback victory two weeks ago against Indianapolis, Minnesota's defense was able to get a stop to start the second half. But a long drive by the Vikings offense resulted in a strip-sack fumble recovery by Green Bay, who answered with a lengthy possession of its own.
The Packers marched 76 yards on 12 plays and chewed up more than seven minutes off the clock before a two-yard touchdown by running back AJ Dillon to start the fourth quarter made it 34-3.
That dagger drive included Green Bay converting a third-and-10 with an 11-yard pass when Minnesota only had 10 defensive players on the field, as well as a 12-men-on-the-field penalty on third-and-4 to award a fresh set of downs.
Green Bay's offense was back on the field one play later after Cousins' third interception of the game, and the Packers took advantage of the short field position with a two-yard scramble by Rodgers to extend their lead to 41-3 with 9:20 left.
As a team, Minnesota held Rodgers to 15-of-24 passing for 159 yards and a score through the air, but it was the Packers run game that set the tone. Green Bay's duo of Aaron Jones and Dillon combined for 152 of the Packers 163 yards on the ground on 26 carries and a touchdown.
View pregame photos of Vikings players ahead of the Week 17 game vs the Packers at Lambeau Field.
Hicks said the defense struggled to remain sound and started to force the issue when the deficit started to grow.
"I think as the game went, we didn't do a good job of just settling down defensively. We allowed our eyes to make us press a lot of the stuff they were doing," Hicks said. "We just have to play sound football, and obviously the turnovers, when they come away with four and we come away with none, it's not going to be a good day."
Hicks added the players must lean on each other to respond quickly next week.
"I think we've got really good leaders in here that understand and have been in situations like this," Hicks continued. "We've got to lean on those guys, lean on ourselves and get this ship righted."