The stage was set Sunday for the Minnesota Vikings to take advantage of a huge opportunity. With a one game lead in the NFC North, they could take control of the division with a victory over their hated division rivals.
Instead, what transpired was easily the Vikings’ worst performance of the season since losing at San Francisco in Week 1. The Vikings are still in good shape to compete for a playoff spot at 7-3, but the schedule doesn’t get any easier the rest of the way. Here are four takeaways from the Vikings’s loss to the Packers.
Penalties, Penalties and More Penalties
The Vikings had gone into Sunday’s game as the least penalized team in the NFL. They picked a really bad time to break that trend in the loss to the Packers. The Vikings had eight penalties for 110 yards, but it was mostly what the penalties were and when they were called that were the real killer. Matt Kalil was flagged three times. Anthony Barr jumped offsides on a 4th-and-1 play. But Cordarrelle Patterson and Linval Joseph had two of the more inexcusable penalties. Patterson head-butted Mason Crosby after returning a kick to midfield with Minnesota down by two touchdowns. Joseph shoved Aaron Rodgers after an incomplete pass and was called for roughing the passer.
For a team that prides itself on discipline, the Vikings had none of it on Sunday.
Vikings Offensive Line Played Largely Terrible
Teddy Bridgewater finished Sunday’s loss 25-of-37 passing for 296 yards and a touchdown to Kyle Rudolph. But Bridgewater spent most of the game running for his life. Minnesota’s offensive line did little to protect him, keep him upright and let him look for throws down the field. Bridgewater was sacked six times by a defense that hadn’t recorded a sack in almost a month. He was also hurried 20 times, or roughly on 54 percent of his passing attempts. The Vikings had largely held up against opponents without Phil Loadholt and John Sullivan, but the offensive line will and should be the first to admit that their play against the Packers wasn’t good enough. To make matters worse, four of the six times Bridgewater was sacked, Green Bay didn’t send extra pressure.
The Vikings got beat up front, and the fact that it happened in such a big game on a huge stage should give the line motivation to play better the rest of the season.
Aaron Rodgers Back To Being Aaron Rodgers
Aaron Rodgers has received plenty of criticism lately, especially after the Packers struggled offensively last week in a home loss to the Lions. His numbers weren’t great Sunday, but he did enough to win a game for his team in a huge spot. Rodgers had 16 completions for 212 yards and two touchdowns. His second touchdown came on a play 27 yards down the sideline on a tight fit to James Jones. Inexplicably, Terence Newman gave up on the play and stopped because it looked like the throw would be out of bounds.
Newman found out the hard way, but you can never give up on a play as long as Rodgers is the quarterback. The Vikings had gotten within 19-13 before the touchdown, and it let the air out of the stadium.
Mike Wallace Has Completely Disappeared
The Vikings acquired Mike Wallace in the offseason, badly needing a consistent deep threat in their passing attack. He’s earning nearly $10 million this season, but might as well be on a milk carton right now as he’s been virtually non-existent in the offense for about the last month. He was targeted just twice on Sunday, both incompletions. The first was a pass that would’ve been a first down and an easy catch, but he dropped it. On the season, Wallace has 28 catches and one touchdown. He has just two catches for 24 yards in the Vikings’ last four games.
He is averaging 11.4 yards per catch, among the lowest of his career. The Vikings brought Wallace in to be a legitimate deep threat and a No. 1 receiver. There is still plenty of season left, but so far he’s a complete bust for Minnesota.
Despite all the doom and gloom that comes with getting crushed on your home field against a division rival on a national stage, there should still be plenty of optimism for Vikings fans. Minnesota and Green Bay are now tied in the NFC North at 7-3 and even if the Vikings can’t catch the Packers in the division, a wild card spot is definitely still in play. But the next three weeks are pivotal for the Vikings. They travel to Atlanta this week for what will be a very tough game against a playoff-caliber team. The Vikings then return home to face a tough Seattle Seahawks squad before traveling to Arizona to face the Cardinals in a Thursday night match-up. A short week against the Falcons’ defense is a daunting task.
If they can find a way to go 2-1 in that stretch, then the Vikings are pretty much a lock for the playoffs. Anything less and the season is still very much up in the air.