GREEN BAY – Too much Dalvin Cook and too many flags.
Shoddy run defense and a litany of penalties did in the Packers as they dropped a 28-22 decision to the Vikings at Lambeau Field on Sunday.
Yes, the wind was a problem and a very important call did not go Green Bay's way. But a previously one-win Minnesota squad proved to be better on this day to split the season series and hand Head Coach Matt LaFleur his first NFC North loss in nine contests.
"We knew that in order to win this football game a couple of things had to happen," said LaFleur shortly after his team fell to 5-2. "We knew we had to stop the run; that didn't happen, we knew we had to play penalty-free; that didn't happen."
Cook bulldozed the Packers to the tune of 226 yards from scrimmage – 163 rushing on 30 carries and 63 receiving on just two receptions. He scored all of Minnesota's touchdowns, four of them the first four times the Vikings (2-5) had the ball.
The initial three scores were on the ground, and then the fourth came via a 50-yard screen pass on third-and-9 midway through the third quarter that featured multiple missed tackles and put the Vikings up 28-14.
"We better figure out a solution quickly because the formula's been written and we have got to step up and get it fixed," LaFleur said of the Packers' issues against top-notch running backs, like Cook, that repeatedly show up. "If not, we're going to continue to get these types of results."
With a short-week trip coming up to San Francisco, where the Packers were run all over by the 49ers' ground game last January with a Super Bowl berth on the line, Sunday's performance bodes poorly. There's not much time to find answers.
LaFleur stressed the Packers knew the Vikings were going to pound the ball with Cook, particularly in the tricky weather conditions and with QB Kirk Cousins leading the league in interceptions.
Instead, Cousins attempted just 14 passes, none downfield, and completed 11 for a modest 160 yards and an efficient 138.1 passer rating.
"When we know that teams are going to try to run the football, we can't let them. We cannot let them," LaFleur said, his frustration audible in his voice. "We've got to force them to throw it. We've got to be in the business of finding solutions."
The Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings faced off in a Week 8 matchup on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020.
In the penalty department, the Packers were flagged nine times for 85 yards. Several holding calls put the offense in tough spots – once it was first-and-30 after back-to-back holds – and a couple of defensive fouls negated potential third-down stops.
Ironically, the Packers also were on the wrong end of a penalty flag being picked up in a key moment. While trying to rally down 14 in the fourth quarter, Green Bay went for it on fourth-and-9 from the Minnesota 32, and a flag was thrown on an incomplete pass to tight end Robert Tonyan.
With Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer screaming on the sideline, the officials talked about it and picked up the flag, announcing there was no pass interference. Both LaFleur and quarterback Aaron Rodgers felt the hit on Tonyan was obviously early, but to no avail.
"I don't think we overlooked anybody," said Rodgers, who several times called it a "strange" game, as the Packers methodically scored two early touchdowns and then suddenly stalled on three straight possessions in the second half. "We didn't handle the elements as well as we have in years past. I don't know if we played with the same type of energy that we needed to."
The no-call on Tonyan loomed large later, as the Packers' eventual rally featured a third TD pass to Davante Adams (seven catches, 53 yards) and a defensive stop with just under a minute left gave Rodgers (27-of-41, 291 yards, three TDs, 110.9 rating) one final shot.
But as he attempted to find some space to launch a Hail Mary from midfield, he was hit from behind, knocking the ball out. The Vikings recovered for the game's only turnover on the final play.
"This definitely qualifies as one of those games where if you want to be a great team, you've got to handle business at home," Rodgers said.
"Hopefully it's just a reality check for us. Thankfully, we have a short week, but we need better performances moving forward."