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Thrilling Rodgers-Cousins QB duel ends in Packers-Vikings tie

September 17, 2018

The “Anthony Barr rule,” aimed at further protecting quarterbacks such as Aaron Rodgers, arguably cost Rodgers’ Green Bay Packers a win Sunday vs. the reigning division champion Minnesota Vikings.

A tremendous football game pitting a pair of gutsy QB performances ended in a 29-29 tie, a game marred by officiating and kicking woes.

Rodgers fought through a knee injury most quarterbacks wouldn’t play with. Kirk Cousins, in his Vikings road debut, refusing to back down despite facing 11- and 13-point deficits midway through the third and fourth quarters.

Amazingly, Packers LB Clay Matthews was flagged for roughing the passer on Cousins to give the Vikings new life on their final drive — and it’s the second week in a row Matthews has been guilty of this. In the Week 1 win over the Bears, a roughing-the-passer call was well deserved as he hit Mitch Trubisky from behind late.

But in Week 2, Matthews applied what appeared to be a textbook hit on Cousins at the end of a pass that was intercepted by Packers CB Jaire Alexander, which should’ve preserved Green Bay’s 29-21 victory. That was negated by the roughing call, despite Matthews avoiding putting all of his weight on the quarterback.

“It has nothing to do with the rule of full body weight,” referee Tony Corrente said afterward via the officials pool report. “It has nothing to do with helmet to helmet. He picked the quarterback up and drove him into the ground.”

When asked whether Matthews could’ve done something differently to avoid penalty, Corrente repsonded, “Not picked him up and drove him into the ground.”

From our vantage point — and seemingly that of countless others watching on television — it didn’t appear that Matthews’ hit on Cousins was malicious or a case of driving the quarterback into the ground. He led with his shoulder, made initial contact in Cousins’ midsection and wraps up the quarterback before shifting his body to Cousins’ side upon initial impact with the ground.

And the controversy sparked by the penalty — just or not — speaks to the increasing gray area created by the NFL messing with the roughing rules again in the offseason.

So, with new life at the Vikings’ 40-yard line, Cousins drove Minnesota in the final minute down to the 22. From there, he fitted a pass in between two Packers defenders for Adam Thielen and an incredible touchdown to make it 29-27. Then Cousins hit Stefon Diggs on a fade for a two-point conversion to tie the game with just 31 seconds remaining in regulation.

It was easy to wonder if it would be too much time left on the clock, even for the limited Rodgers.

The Packers caught Minnesota off guard on an 11-yard draw with Ty Montgomery, before Rodgers escaped the pocket and — on the move — found Jimmy Graham for a 27-yard gain with seven seconds remaining. Rodgers then hit Davante Adams for a 3-yard pass to give kicker Mason Crosby a chance from 52 yards out with three seconds left.

Crosby connected on what would’ve been his sixth field goal of the day, but Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer iced the kicker with a timeout just as the ball was snapped, negating the kick. Crosby then missed the second attempt to force overtime, where the real kicking horror show ensued.

The Vikings got the ball first and had two chances to put away the Packers. But rookie PK Daniel Carlson, who also missed his only field-goal attempt in regulation, pushed to the right tries from 49 and 35 yards on Minneota’s only two OT possessions.

The shaky officiating call and the lack of clutch kicking certainly left a lot to be desired, but it shouldn’t undercut the QB performances.

Rodgers was heroic while playing with a huge brace to protect his injured left knee, which ESPN reported earlier Sunday could require up to two months to heal. He finished 30-of-42 for 281 yards — including two big Davante Adams drops — and showed just enough mobility to maneuver in the pocket and pretty much his usual razor-sharp accuracy.

The Packers mostly played well around Rodgers, too, with the O-line doing a nice job in the ground game and giving their injured quarterback enough time to work. But two costly penalties — by Lane Taylor and Bryan Bulaga — both took touchdowns off the board. And the special teams was strong up until Crosby’s final miss.

Still, Rodgers might not have been the gustiest quarterback on the field. Cousins was marvelous, thowing for 425 yards, four TDs and one interception, which wasn’t his fault. Laquon Treadwell, after catching his first-ever touchdown in the first half, also had two drops, the second of which deflected into the hands of Alexander late in the fourth quarter in what felt at the time like a game-clincher for Green Bay.

But Cousins never flinched. He led the game-tying drive and positioned Minnesota for the win in overtime, only to see Kai Forbath’s replacement, Carlson, squander it twice.

This rivalry didn’t need any reinforcing, not after Barr ended Rodgers’ and the Packers’ season with the collarbone-snapping sack last October that prompted the NFL to enhance its roughing rule. And not after the two clubs have traded off taking division titles over the past two seasons and aggressively upgraded their rosters this offseason.

But if this is the first taste of what’s to come in this recharged rivalry, we’re in for a serious treat. That is, if the referees and kickers can get their acts together quickly.

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