'Stage is set' for Packers on Monday night

Green Bay’s first win in U.S. Bank Stadium would be a huge one

QB Aaron Rodgers
QB Aaron Rodgers

GREEN BAY – The Packers certainly don't want it to get that far.

They've played only three games at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, but the Vikings' pristine, modern venue is already on the verge of becoming a "house of horrors" for Green Bay.

The loss in 2016 hinged on a failed fourth-and-1 when Mike McCarthy eschewed a game-tying field goal and James Starks got stuffed at the line of scrimmage. In 2017, Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone. Last year, a 14-all tie at the half devolved into Vikings domination after intermission.

The Packers can nip the unwanted narrative in the bud Monday night by clinching an NFC North title in a rival stadium where they have yet to post a victory.

"It means we're due," Rodgers said this week. "It means we're due. We've won in Minnesota over the years, we've won in two different stadiums. It would be nice to make it three."

The two stadiums Rodgers is referring to are the Metrodome and the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium, which was the Vikings' temporary home for two years (2014-15) while U.S. Bank was being built.

Rodgers' track record is pretty good. After losing his first two games as a starter at the Metrodome (2008-09), Rodgers won three of his last four there and then both games at TCF Bank before entering the new place.

That's a far cry from the Packers' struggles at the Metrodome during the Mike Holmgren era, when QB Brett Favre went just 1-6 from 1992-98 and the Packers seemingly lost every which way imaginable.

Favre eventually won four of his last five at the Metrodome (2003-07), securing a division title and breaking Dan Marino's career touchdown pass record there along the way, but the "house of horrors" label had already stuck.

By the way, that division championship was clinched on Dec. 24, 2004, one day shy of exactly 15 years prior to Monday night's showdown.

With four seasons at U.S. Bank Stadium nearly in the books, the Vikings are 24-7 there, including one playoff win. The place makes an impression on practically every visitor for its noise and atmosphere, which has carried over from the Metrodome, just to a more aesthetically pleasing place.

"It was pretty electric," said Head Coach Matt LaFleur, who was the Rams' offensive coordinator in 2017 when Los Angeles dropped a game there, 24-7. "It was my first time in a long time playing in Minnesota and just, when they got that (Skol) chant going, the crowd really fed off that and it was certainly a home-field advantage for them."

Za'Darius Smith played there with the Ravens, also in 2017, and also lost, 24-16.

"The crowd there, you could just feel it up under your feet," Smith said. "How the intensity of the crowd can get on third down."

The funny thing about Rodgers saying the Packers are "due" in this one is the Vikings could be saying the same thing. Quarterback Kirk Cousins is 0-8 on Monday Night Football in his career, the eighth straight loss coming just a few weeks ago at Seattle.

It's a strange stat for sure, and his overall prime-time record of 7-14 shows the results are much more balanced on any night except Mondays. Cousins won a Sunday night game at Dallas six weeks ago to bounce back from a road loss at Kansas City and get the Vikings back in contention, where they've been ever since.

Cousins does have a prime-time win over the Packers, on Sunday Night Football back in 2016 as Washington's QB. It turned out to be the last game the Packers lost that year until the NFC Championship.

So is it Cousins who's "due," or the Packers? Does it even matter? Of course not, but the fans at home are likely to be treated by ESPN to highlight snippets of all the bad things that have happened to the Packers in the short lifetime to date of U.S. Bank Stadium, and all the bad things that have happened to Cousins on Monday nights.

None of that will help the Packers deal with the noise, the momentum surges and the clutch moments they'll have to handle in an extremely difficult venue to emerge victorious.

Unless the Packers can acquire the NFC's No. 1 seed over the next two weeks, a road win in a hostile place against a contender will be required to get where they want to go. This is their chance to prove they can win that very type of game.

"We're not satisfied with what we've done so far, and our goal is to win the North and go out and do bigger and better things," receiver Davante Adams said. "So obviously, the stage is set."

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