MINNEAPOLIS – A familiar script played out for the Packers on Sunday night at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Thrust into another loud and energized road environment, the Packers got off to the fast start they wanted on both sides of the ball against Minnesota before watching that early momentum dissipate in a 24-17 loss to the Vikings, marking the fourth time Green Bay has lost a one-score contest on the road this season.
Like previous trips to Los Angeles, New England and Seattle, the Packers fell victim to inefficiency on third down (2-of-10), miscues on special teams and mounting injuries, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
After dropping to 4-6-1 on the year, the Packers’ locker room was left to make sense of the situation it finds itself in with five games left in the regular season.
“We’re not playing well enough on the road to get wins,” right tackle Bryan Bulaga said. “We need to play better, especially in second halves of games. You look at the road games, we come out, play really good football in the first half and then the execution just kind of lacks in the second half, especially these road games against good teams like New England, LA, here. You can’t do that.”
For as frustrating as the ending turned out to be, the start couldn’t have been much better for Green Bay. Kirk Cousins and the Vikings’ offense looked out of sync early, going three-and-out on their first two possessions after receiving the opening kickoff.
The Packers’ offense used the stops to take an early 14-7 lead with back-to-back touchdowns off a 15-yard pass to Davante Adams and a 6-yard run from running back Aaron Jones off a pitch left.
Green Bay looked sharp on both series, with quarterback Aaron Rodgers connecting with rookie receiver Equanimeous St. Brown on a few completions and Jones getting off to a strong start with 43 of his eventual 93 total yards in the first quarter.
The momentum shifted midway through the second quarter with Green Bay gaining only 62 total yards on its next six offensive possessions and failing to put up any more points until Mason Crosby kicked a 38-yard field goal with 2 minutes, 20 seconds remaining in regulation.
The Packers tried to jolt the offense when they fed the ball twice to Jones in third-and-1 and fourth-and-1 situations from their own 44 in the second quarter, but couldn’t convert. As productive as he was Sunday night against the NFL’s fifth-ranked run defense, Jones lamented not being able to pick up the first down.
“I saw a little penetration, cut off one guy and got hit by another guy,” said Jones, who had 17 carries for 72 yards and the touchdown. “The third-and-1, it was just good defense. I mean those guys get paid, too. They're professionals. You win some, you lose some. I wish I could have it back and convert the fourth down because I feel like that changes the game.”
Meanwhile, the defense kept the Packers in the game throughout despite being down starting cornerbacks Kevin King and Bashaud Breeland, and defensive tackle Mike Daniels.
While it struggled to get to Cousins, the Packers’ defense allowed only five total yards on the first two series before Minnesota started to build momentum with receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.
The Vikings scored two touchdowns, but the game remained tied at halftime following Dan Bailey’s missed field goals from 48 and 56 yards.
Green Bay’s defense even earned one more three-and-out before Thielen really started to get going. The Pro Bowl receiver caught eight passes for 125 yards and a touchdown, while Cousins finished with a 129.5 passer rating after completing 29-of-38 attempts for 342 yards and three touchdowns.
“We gave up a few too many big plays,” linebacker Clay Matthews said. “Unfortunately, that’s the difference in these type of games. It’s hard, really, after a loss to give yourself any type of compliment but I felt we hung tough, especially with the injuries.”
Offensively, the Packers finished the game with starting left guard Lane Taylor (quad) and left tackle David Bakhtiari, who initially left the game with a knee injury before returning and exiting a second time. St. Brown also exited briefly with an elbow injury, but finished the game.
Defensively, safety Kentrell Brice left twice with an ankle injury and then to be evaluated for a concussion, while returner Trevor Davis was sidelined coming out of halftime with a hamstring injury.
With defensive back Tramon Williams replacing Davis in the second half, the Packers lost one fumble to a muffed punt after Kenny Clark’s third-down sack of Cousins. Green Bay managed to keep the Vikings off the board, but it burned a little more than a minute off the clock late in the fourth quarter.
“I had all intentions to fair catch it but the ball shifted at the last second,” Williams said. “It's one of those things where you just can't make that mistake at that point of the game. Like I said, you just can't make those mistakes and expect to win a game like that. Especially when you want to be able to win. I take all responsibility for that.”
While now 0-6 on the road this season, the Packers will get a chance to right the ship back home at Lambeau Field next Sunday when they host the Arizona Cardinals, who fell to 2-9 after a 45-10 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.
The Packers still have an outside chance at the playoffs, but will need help with the Chicago Bears in front of the NFC North with an 8-3 record and a crowded field of NFC contenders vying for the conference’s two wild-card berths.
“All we can continue doing is continue to go to work and keep fighting,” Williams said. “Everybody's character shows up. You've got to persevere through these things. We don't know the reason why we're going through it, but we are and we've got to stay together and stick together. That's what we're going to do.”