GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A disastrous start, a game-changing offensive pass interference call, a bone-headed penalty by a star wide receiver and self-inflicted wounds on offense cost the Minnesota Vikings their first road victory of the season in a 21-16 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.
Vikings running back Dalvin Cook was tremendous, carrying 20 times for 154 yards and a touchdown (along with 37 yards receiving), but his breakout day was spoiled on an afternoon when the rest of the Vikings' offense couldn’t come through to support its star running back.
Minnesota’s defense certainly shares in some of the blame for starting things off on the wrong foot, giving up 21 unanswered points early on scoring drives of 75, 68 and 33 yards. While the adjustments this unit made denied Green Bay any drives longer than 22 yards (minus the final drive of the game) from there on out, the offense couldn’t make the same fix.
Pivotal play: This game will be remembered for three questionable offensive pass interference calls against the Vikings, none more controversial than the penalty enforced at the end of the first half that reversed Stefon Diggs' 3-yard touchdown. Officials believed Cook blocked Packers safety Darnell Savage in the end zone, allowing Diggs to be wide open on a crossing route while receiving a short pass from Kirk Cousins. “In Green Bay, the ruling on the field of a touchdown was overturned due to the fact that No. 33 (Cook), clear and obvious visual evidence that he blocks down field prior to the ball being touched,” NFL vice president of officiating Al Riveron said in an explanation put out on Twitter.
It’s one thing if OPI had been called during the play, but the fact that it was reversed on replay -- which requires clear and obvious evidence of a mistake -- puts the NFL’s new PI rule under fire. Minnesota was forced to settle for a 31-yard field goal after play resumed and went into halftime trailing 21-10 instead of possibly cutting the Packers' lead to seven.
QB breakdown: Cousins looked abysmal for most of Sunday’s game, completing 14 of 32 passes for 230 yards, a touchdown and a 52.9 passer rating. By the second quarter, the QB had two fumbles (one lost) and an interception (he would finish with two). These big games in which Cousins has failed to come through in critical moments is the criticism that has followed him throughout his career. That's a trend Minnesota hopes he’ll be able to buck this season. The instances in which Cousins made miracle plays, such as completing a 61-yard pass to Chad Beebe while getting tackled from behind and dropping a 45-yard bomb into Diggs’ bread basket for a touchdown in the third quarter, were spoiled by moments in which he failed to deliver game-changing drives.
Diggs stretched out on an overthrown ball on third-and-7 early in the fourth quarter that would have put Minnesota within striking distance of taking the lead. But what sealed Cousins’ terrible outing was on the Vikings' second to last drive. After Alexander Mattison got Minnesota down to the 8-yard line, Cousins felt pressure from Tyler Lancaster, leading him to heave a ball into double coverage in the corner of the end zone instead of throw it away. The ball was picked off by Packers cornerback Kevin King, and the Vikings never had another chance to score. The decision making on that throw alone (along with the playcalling on first down) comes into question.
Silver lining: Minnesota is in a precarious spot with its cornerback depth after injuries forced coach Mike Zimmer to turn to his reserves. The Vikings' secondary was exposed most noticeably in the first half, when Davante Adams was left matched up with Jayron Kearse in the slot (Adams finished with seven catches for 106 yards) while cornerback Xavier Rhodes allowed a handful of big gains shadowing the Packers’ No. 1 receiver. CBs Mackensie Alexander (elbow) and Mike Hughes missed Sunday’s game, but Hughes appears to be inching closer to his return after completing his first full practice on Friday and going through warm-ups in Green Bay. The Vikings really need to be at full strength on the back end against elite quarterbacks such as Rodgers, who they’ll face again in late December.