The Vikings improved to 6-4-1, beating the Packers on Sunday night. They played mistake-free football and executed when it mattered, putting themselves in prime position for a playoff spot with five games remaining. In the process, they all but eliminated the Packers from playoff contention, as they will likely need finish 5-0, and even that might not be enough. With no turnovers, this game’s crucial moments were on third down, where the Vikings defense was able to get off the field and the offense was able to extend drives, keeping Aaron Rodgers on the sideline. Here’s how it happened:
- 2nd Quarter – 13:00 – Kyle Rudolph converts on third down
Score: 14-7 GB
Field Position: 3rd and 7 at MIN 45
Result of Drive: Stefon Diggs TD
Synopsis: With the Vikings down a score, they were on the verge of giving the ball back to the Packers. On third down, Cousins went through his progressions and found Rudolph on the right sideline, who scampered for a first down to keep the drive going.
Because of This Play: The Vikings never let the Packers take control of the game. Green Bay had just scored on two consecutive drives, and the Vikings responded with touchdowns after each one. This play (in addition to Rudy’s tipped catch moments earlier) extended the drive, rather than giving Rodgers the ball back when the Vikings D looked briefly susceptible.
- 3rd Quarter – 11:44 – Rodgers misses Adams deep
Field Position: 3rd and 7 at MIN 47
Result of Drive: Punt
Synopsis: On the first drive of the second half, the Packers were in Vikings’ territory. Mike Zimmer sent a blitz, lining up Harrison Smith, Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr at the line. This forced Rodgers to quickly release the ball, as he tried to find Davante Adams deep down the left sideline on a low-probability pass. The ball fell incomplete and the Packers were forced to punt.
Because of This Play: This set the tone for the second half, where Green Bay would go on to score only three points. It wasn’t an individual making a play here, but the scheme of Zimmer made Rodgers uncomfortable, credit to the coach on this stop.
- 3rd Quarter – 1:41, Stefon Diggs end around for 12 yards
Score: 17-14 MIN
Field Position: 2nd and 10 at GB 31
Result of Drive: Adam Thielen TD
Synopsis: The Vikings began this drive on the Green Bay 31 after a twenty-yard punt return by Marcus Sherels. Facing second-and-long, John DeFilippo dialed up an end-around to Stefon Diggs, who picked up the first down on a crucial drive.
Because of This Play: The Vikings took a two-score lead. It was important for the Vikings to get into the end zone on this drive, considering the field position and the score. After an incompletion on first-down, it looked like they might have to settle for a field goal. After we credit Zimmer, we credit DeFilippo for calling this run by Diggs to move the chains. Two plays later, Adam Thielen scored to put the Vikings up by ten.
- 4thQuarter, 13:35 – Sheldon Richardson sacks Rodgers
Score: 24-14 MIN
Field Position: 3rd and 4 at GB 44
Result of Drive: Punt
Synopsis: After the Vikings touchdown, the Packers needed to score in a hurry. On third down, Sheldon Richardson powered his way through the offensive line and took down Rodgers for a loss of seven, forcing Green Bay to punt for the third time in four drives.
Because of This Play: Rodgers wouldn’t get the ball back until five minutes left (spoiler: the next key play helps this narrative). The other reason this was a huge play was that it was a sack. If it was an incompletion or other stop, the Packers could have been tempted into going for it, as they were near the fifty with only four yards to gain.
- 4th Quarter – 10:38 – Cousins finds Thielen on third down for 20 yards
Score: 24-14 MIN
Field Position: 3rd and 6 at MIN 24
Result of Drive: Punt (Muffed and Recovered)
Synopsis: Up by ten, the Vikings needed to take as much time off the clock as possible. At their own twenty-four, they were at risk of punting and giving Green Bay favorable field position. Instead, Cousins found an open Thielen on the left side for a gain of twenty.
Because of This Play: The Vikings were able to take another seven minutes off the clock. Third downs are key for obvious reasons, and while this drive didn’t end in points, it kept Rodgers off the field and allowed the defense to rest. This was an eleven-play drive that took just under seven minutes. After the muffed punt, an additional minute came off the clock. Rodgers didn’t get the ball back until there was 4:51 remaining with the Packers down ten, a deficit that proved to be insurmountable.