Cousins, Vikings pass by punchless Packers, 24-17

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is sacked by Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, right, on Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Once Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota Vikings took the lead on Green Bay, they played with a fierce refusal to let it go.

They held onto the ball with the same determination.

Cousins bounced back from his worst game of the season with 342 passing yards and three touchdowns without a fumble or an interception, and the Vikings overcame some early gaffes to outlast the depleted Packers for a 24-17 victory on Sunday night.

Completing 29 of his 38 attempts, Cousins found Dalvin Cook , Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen for scores. Diggs and Thielen had eight receptions apiece.

“It just kind of shows his character, shows what kind of player he is, to be able to just not really care what people talk about him, not really care about what happened last week,” Thielen said of Cousins, adding: “The throws he was making, his full game was really impressive. That’s what you expect out of him.”

Sheldon Richardson had two sacks to lead the defense’s game-long stifling of Aaron Rodgers, and the Vikings (6-4-1) pushed the Packers (4-6-1) further back in the NFC wild card race.

For Green Bay, it was another stumble down the stretch of the season. Now they’ll probably need a perfect finish to squeeze into the playoffs.

“We’ll see what we’re made of for the last five weeks,” Rodgers said. “Are we going to stick together through these tough times, or are we going to start splintering? I’d like to think that the leadership is in place that we can stick together through whatever happens, but these five weeks will show it.”

The Packers went three and out on their first possession, only because Davante Adams accidentally stepped out of bounds before making what would’ve been a chain-moving catch on third down. Then Rodgers finished the second drive with a vintage back-shoulder touchdown throw to Adams , before Jones raced around left end on a crack toss sweep that Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said afterward was a perfect call for the defensive play he had dialed up.

But the Packers went three-and-out the next time they had the ball and didn’t score again until a field goal with 2:20 left in the fourth quarter. Over their final seven possessions, they punted five times and had a turnover on downs when Jones was stopped on fourth-and-inches midway through the third quarter at their 44-yard line. On that final drive, Adams had what would’ve been a touchdown catch on third-and-1 at the 20 slip through his hands.

“Our third down has been our black eye,” Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said.

This will be the first time since Rodgers took over as the starter in 2008 that the Packers don’t reach double-digit wins in the regular season when Rodgers doesn’t miss any games to injuries. They were 7-9 in 2017 and 8-7-1 in 2013 when Rodgers broke his collarbone. They were 6-10 in 2008.

The Vikings won a night game for the first time this season after losing to the top three teams in the NFC: to the Rams in Los Angeles, at home to the New Orleans Saints and at Chicago in a two-interception game by Cousins against the first-place Bears. The Vikings entered the weekend with the fourth-most turnovers in the NFL, and Cousins has been charged with 13 of the 16 giveaways. Coach Mike Zimmer was so impressed by the way Cousins played against the Packers that he gave him the game ball in the locker room afterward .

“Last week left a bad taste in our mouths,” Cousins said, “and the chance to come back on Sunday night football against a division rival at home was a great opportunity, and I’m glad we made the most of it.”

Rodgers threw a touchdown pass to Adams and Aaron Jones scored on a short run for a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter, but the Packers fell to 0-6 on the road this season and 1-5-1 against the Vikings in their last seven meetings. Their final seven possessions produced only one field goal, with five punts and one turnover on downs.

“We’ve all got to play better, myself included,” Rodgers said. “Started off the game nice. We had a couple good drives. We’re rolling there. We hit our unfortunate typical lull and didn’t get it going again.”

With Randall Cobb out (hamstring) for a sixth game this season and rookies Equanimeous St. Brown (elbow) and Trevor Davis (hamstring) forced out in the second half, Rodgers didn’t have much to work with down the field. Left guard Lane Taylor (quadriceps) departed in the first half and left tackle David Bakhtiari (knee) was sidelined in the second half, leaving the protection shaky at best. Rodgers finished 17 for 28 for 198 yards, without a turnover.

The Packers failed to move the chains on eight of 10 third downs. Jones was stuffed on fourth-and-inches by Harrison Smith, Danielle Hunter and Eric Kendricks midway through the third quarter, giving the Vikings the ball at the Green Bay 44. That set up a 37-yard field goal by Dan Bailey for Minnesota’s first lead of the game.

“We’re definitely not in the position, record-wise, we thought we would be in coming into the year or even after this game. We thought we could get the victory. But unfortunately we ran out of gas,” Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said. “We’re beat up, no doubt about that. But give them credit: They put in a full four quarters.”

The Vikings outgained the Packers 280-139 in total yardage in the first half, but they had to settle for a tie at the break. About to go for it on fourth-and-inches on the opening drive following a timeout to strategize, they were penalized for 12 men on the field and had to punt.

Diggs collided with Thielen when Jaire Alexander crashed their pick play on the second possession, and after Diggs tried to circle back the other way with an ill-fated salvage attempt he lost 10 yards on that reception to lead to another punt.

Bailey’s wide left 48-yard try wasted another highlight-reel catch by Thielen in between Alexander and Josh Jones that went for 33 yards. Later in the second quarter, after some mismanagement of the clock, the Vikings had to hustle to set up a 51-yard kick for Bailey. That one was good, but Rashod Hill was called for a false start. The 56-yarder sliced right, the fifth straight missed field goal against the Packers after rookie Daniel Carlson went 0 for 3 in Green Bay and was cut the next day.

The Packers (4-6-1) fell into 10th place in the NFC. They were beaten up, mentally and physically, by this five-game slog with losses on the road against the Rams (10-1), Patriots (8-3), Seahawks (6-5) and Vikings (6-4-1) when they were either tied or leading as late as the third quarter in each of those four games.

The schedule softens, with four losing teams on the slate: home games against the Cardinals (2-9), Falcons (4-7) and Lions (4-7) and a trip to play the Jets (3-8) following a rematch with the NFC North-leading Bears (8-3) on the road. There’s a legitimate question, though, about whether the Packers have enough steam left to win out like they did in 2016 with six straight victories to win the division at 10-6 and reach the NFC championship game.

PACKED AND HAPPY HOUSE

The announced attendance of 66,872 was the largest for the Vikings in three years at U.S. Bank Stadium. A handful of Minnesota players were introduced in the first quarter with Paul Bunyan’s Axe, the trophy the Gophers repossessed from the rival Badgers in Wisconsin on Saturday to end a 14-game losing streak. Randy Moss kept the crowd fired up in a halftime ceremony to receive his Pro Football Hall of Fame ring.

INJURY REPORT

Packers: In addition to the carnage on offense, SS Kentrell Brice aggravated an ankle injury in the first quarter and was knocked out of action in the third quarter with a possible concussion. CB Kevin King and CB Bashaud Breeland were already inactive with injuries.

Vikings: RT Brian O’Neill left in the third quarter for evaluation for a possible concussion. … CB Xavier Rhodes limped off with an apparent injury to his right hamstring in the fourth quarter.

UP NEXT

Packers: Host Arizona (2-9) next Sunday afternoon.

Vikings: Play at New England (8-3) next Sunday afternoon.

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