Green Bay Packers’ playoff hopes take a big hit with 24-17 loss to Minnesota Vikings
MINNEAPOLIS — For more than a week, Aaron Rodgers kept saying that all the Green Bay Packers needed was that one galvanizing moment to turn their season around.
The Packers quarterback can keep looking, but it appears that moment isn’t coming — and neither are the playoffs for the once-proud Packers and head coach Mike McCarthy.
Once again, a fourth-quarter collapse during a road game in which they’d been competitive for the first three quarters did the Packers in on Sunday night, this time in the form of a 24-17 loss to the Minnesota Vikings at US Bank Stadium.
“We are where we are record-wise. … We’ve all got to take accountability for that — myself first and foremost,” Rodgers said after completing 17 of 28 passes for 198 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions (94.0 rating) but failing to generate more than three points offensively in the second half. “I know I’ve got to play better. I will, and we’ll put ourselves in position.”
But will they? At 4-6-1 with five games to play — including a pathetic 0-6 record away from Lambeau Field — and with the Vikings (6-4-1) now holding the head-to-head tiebreaker, the Packers appear ticketed for their second straight year of missing the postseason.
And that could lead to an offseason coaching change, with McCarthy’s 13th season as coach possibly his last. McCarthy has one year remaining on his contract, but considering that Rodgers hasn’t missed a start this season — although he did suffer a significant left knee injury in the opener — missing the postseason again with the two-time NFL MVP in the lineup may seal his fate.
“Clearly (I) understand where we are in the season, clearly understand the importance of this game,” said McCarthy, who called it a “hard-fought loss” that was filled with challenges. “Moving forward, we’re focused on the next five. We know we have to win all five.”
Later, McCarthy added, “We are where we are. … We’re about winning football games. We didn’t do enough. I didn’t do enough. We didn’t have enough tonight. They had more than we had.”
The Packers were tied, 14-14, midway through the third quarter when McCarthy decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Packers’ 44-yard line and running back Aaron Jones was stopped for no gain. Seven plays later, the Vikings snapped the tie with a 37-yard Dan Bailey field goal to make it 17-14.
“You have two calls there and hindsight’s always 20/20 (but) the second call would have been the better call there,” McCarthy replied when asked about the decision not to punt. “But that’s football. We were just trying to get something going there.”
Asked if he considered punting, McCarthy replied, “It’s always an option, definitely. … It was definitely an option.”
Rodgers said he liked the decision to go for it but said it was “just execution” that foiled the play.
Green Bay then went three-and-out on its next possession, and when the Vikings pushed their lead to 24-14 on a 14-yard Kirk Cousins-to-Adam Thielen touchdown with 50 seconds left in the third quarter, it appeared the Packers were in danger of getting run out of the building — especially when Rodgers was sacked for a 7-yard loss on third-and-4 from the Green Bay 44 and the Vikings got the ball back with a 10-point lead and 12:48 to play.
The Packers defense, though, rose to the occasion and forced a punt with 5:51 to go, only to have special teams — a season-long issue — let them down again. This time, the short kick bounced in front of returner Tramon Williams, caromed off Williams’ left shoulder and into the waiting arms of Vikings defender Marcus Sherels at the Green Bay 15.
And yet, when Vikings coach Mike Zimmer inexplicably decided to go for it on fourth-and-2 at the Green Bay 7 — instead of kicking a chip-shot field goal that would have pushed the lead to 13 — the Packers got the ball back when Reggie Gilbert deflected Cousins’ pass incomplete.
Rodgers led the Packers down the field in response, and on third-and-1 from Minnesota’s 17-yard line, he had wide receiver Davante Adams open in the end zone behind Vikings cornerback Holton Hill, who was playing in place of injured shutdown corner Xavier Rhodes. Rhodes had suffered a hamstring injury on Adams’ 39-yard catch three plays earlier that had put the Packers in scoring position.
“I came to him late. I was trying to hold the safety (with my eyes), and it was just a bad throw,” Rodgers said. “I would assume based on the separation I saw that he ran a great route … He’s one of the best receivers if not the best receiver in the NFL. I just missed the throw.”
Mason Crosby kicked a 35-yard field goal to pull the Packers within a touchdown, but Green Bay couldn’t recover the ensuing onside kick, and Cousins hit Stefon Diggs on third-and-6 to allow the Vikings to run out the remainder of the clock.
“We’ve just got to find a way,” Rodgers said. “The way our defense played tonight, and to hold (the Vikings) to 24 points, we’ve got to win this game.
“We’ve all got to play better, myself included. We started off the game nice, had a couple good drives. We were rolling there. Then we hit our typical lull and couldn’t get it going again.”
Asked if he thinks the team can go on a run-the-table style run like the Packers did in 2016, when they won their last six games to make the postseason, Rodgers acknowledged that they could and still not make the postseason.
“We are where we’re at right now record-wise. We’re going to need some help … and then we’ve got to take care of our own business,” he said. “We’re 0-6 on the road. We’ve just got to go back home, get some rest, beat Arizona, beat Atlanta, go to Chicago — a place we’ve won a number of times — and win there, go to New York around Christmas, beat them, then come home against Detroit, beat them. And get some help.”
Rodgers forced a smile at that point, knowing that’s easier said than done.
“I knew we had a tough stretch, four really tough places to play. I didn’t think we’d go 1-4 in that stretch,” Rodgers said of the team’s last five games. “But that’s where we’re at. We’ve got to win our last five and even that might not be enough.”