GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — This isn’t how the NFC North champion Minnesota Vikings hope to play as they prepare for the playoffs.
Minnesota (12-4) won the division with 11 wins in a one-point game, but the Vikings also suffered some uneven losses that called into question their ability to make the playoffs.
Their latest loss — a 41-17 loss at Green Bay on Sunday — will only give their doubters more fuel.
“You definitely don’t have a good feel or good taste in your mouth when you come out of this,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said.
With the Vikings leading 3-0, the Packers scored 41 points in a row, with the prolific QB throwing up three interceptions and allowing a fumble. The Packers converted all four of those fumbles into touchdowns, as Darnell Savage Jr. scored on a 75-yard interception return.
Cousins couldn’t carry the Vikings without the help of star receiver Justin Jefferson and running back Darwin Cook. The Packers limited Jefferson to one reception and Cook to 27 rushing yards.
“I didn’t play well enough tonight,” Cousins said. “Just need to play better, that’s the bottom line.”
In one of the most unusual seasons, the Vikings (12-4) had a . 750 winning percentage even though their opponents outscored them by 19 points (414-395). Their season-opening home win over the Packers, 23-7, was their only win by more than eight points.
Their four losses have averaged a margin of 22.3 points, the closest being a 34-23 loss in Detroit. The Vikings lost 24-7 in Philadelphia and 40-3 at home to Dallas before Sunday’s crushing defeat in Green Bay.
“I think it just comes down to the fact that when we lose games that are lopsided, we contribute directly to those,” coach Kevin O’Connell said. “When you turn the score the other way for a touchdown, it can get out of hand very quickly, you give up a 100-yard kick return, you don’t when you block a punt and end up on their 1-yard Score the line and take the three (points) away.”
Everything that happened on Sunday.
The Vikings took the lead at No. 1 after blocking a punt, but eventually made it 3-0 with a field goal. Green Bay’s Keisean Nixon returned the ensuing drive for 105 yards to put the Packers ahead forever. A week after scoring a 61-yard field goal to beat the New York Giants, Greg Joseph missed both field goals.
Minnesota’s offense has to be really good to make up for the NFL’s second-worst defense in yards and points allowed.
Most of the time, it has been — thanks to Cousins and Jefferson, who set franchise records for receptions and receiving yards. Jefferson opened against the Packers with nine passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns.
Packers cornerback Jayle Alexander called Jefferson’s season-opening performance a “fluke.” Alexander backed up that claim Sunday when the Packers held Jefferson to 15 yards.
“For all the yardage he’s had, that’s what I’d call a fluke,” Alexander said. “He was catching the ball when no one was even on him. It was like, ‘Yeah, ok, good job.'”
The Vikings’ bigger concerns about offense come first.
Minnesota lost two of its starting offensive linemen to injuries in the first quarter of Sunday’s game. Center Austin Schlottmann suffered a fractured fibula and right tackle Brian O’Neill suffered a calf injury. Schlotterman started in place of Garrett Bradbury, who missed his fourth straight game with a back injury.
Chris Reid, who hasn’t played an offensive snap all season, takes over from Schlotterman at center. Olisaemeka Udoh added at right tackle. The Packers noticed a difference.
“They’re down to their third center,” defensive tackle Kenny Clark said. “It’s definitely a big loss for them. They had a lot of turnovers in terms of snap counts and all that. It put them definitely behind the eight.”
The Vikings still believe their offense can bounce back in time for the playoffs.
“I think the great thing about this football team is there are absolutely no questions,” wide receiver Adam Thielen said. “I think, if anything, it motivates us to go back and train well for a week and then practice day by day.
“It’s a very united group and we can use that for good, but after such a tough loss we really have to put that chip on our shoulders.”
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