It was quite the bounce back for the Minnesota Vikings on the national stage in a game they absolutely had to win to remain in the NFC North Division hunt.
The Vikings allowed just three second half points, and Kirk Cousins found a rhythm in a 24-17 win over the Packers. The victory puts Minnesota solidly in second in the division, and very much keeps playoff hopes alive. Green Bay’s loss delivers a potential dagger to its postseason, and puts head coach Mike McCarthy firmly on the hot seat.
But the road doesn’t get any easier for the Vikings in their last five games. The stretch starts this Sunday at New England, and it’s never easy to beat the Patriots and Tom Brady on the road. The Vikings then head to Seattle in two weeks, always a tough place to play.
The Vikings took control in the second half of Sunday’s game to come away with a huge victory. Here are four takeaways from Sunday’s win.
Big Day for Kyle Rudolph
We haven’t seen a ton of Kyle Rudolph in the passing game this season, but that changed Sunday against the Packers. Green Bay tried to do whatever it could early to take away Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. With all the attention on those two, other receivers had a chance to make plays. Enter Rudolph, who caught all seven of his targets for 63 yards, including a few key receptions for first downs that kept drives alive.
Rudolph entered the game with 36 catches on the season, an average of a little more than three per game. He’s only found the end zone twice, but any time he catches a pass, it’s another weapon a defense has to keep an eye one.
Defense Steps Up, Pressures Rodgers
After getting off to a rough start and allowing 14 first half points, the Vikings defense stepped up in a big way to limit Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. They only scored three second half points, and Sheldon Richardson sacked Rodgers twice. Tom Johnson also got a sack, but Rodgers faced pressure consistently and didn’t have a lot of time to consistently find his favorite weapons.
Rodgers threw for only 198 yards as the Packers managed just 254 yards of offense. They managed less than five yards per play on the day, while the Vikings had the ball nine minutes longer and ran 18 more offensive plays.
Kirk Cousins Bounces Back in National Spotlight
The Vikings’ $84 million quarterback had a rough night the last time he was in the national spotlight. Having to face Khalil Mack will do that to a lot of quarterbacks. But Cousins consistently had time to find open receivers Sunday night, and sometimes they weren’t open and he still found them.
Cousins was sacked twice, but finished 29-of-38 passing for 342 yards and touchdowns to Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs and Dalvin Cook. He wasn’t afraid to take chances and throw into tight windows. Cousins is now fifth in the NFL with 3,289 passing yards and 22 touchdowns. He has 36 completions of at least 20 yards, and three of more than 40 yards. He played for the most part like the quarterback the Vikings hoped they were getting when they signed him in free agency.
Puzzling Packers Play Calling
The Packers had two fourth down situations Sunday night that left fans on both sides a little puzzled, and Green Bay fans angry. Facing a 4th-and-3, Mike McCarthy was angry at officials that it took them too long to spot the ball inside Vikings territory. They ended up taking a timeout, couldn’t get a play called because of it and punted. You’re wasting a timeout there if you’re not going for it.
They also had a 4th-and-inches that eventually led to Vikings’ points. You have Aaron Rodgers, arguably the best quarterback in the league. He makes all of his receivers better by his ability alone. He can even run a quarterback sneak if he so chooses. But instead, they call a run to the right side of the offensive line. It gets stuffed, and the Vikings get the ball back. It’s truly baffling in that situation to not let Rodgers make a play, one way or the other.
The Vikings are now 6-4-1 with five games left, and hit the road two straight weeks at New England and Seattle before coming home to face Miami. It’s a critical stretch to make games against the Lions and Bears to finish the season meaningful.