Vikings locked in as No. 6 seed in playoffs; Packers earn NFC North title

 startribune.com  12/24/2019 07:07:30   Ben Goessling

The majority of the announced 67,157 in attendance  a record for a Vikings game at U.S. Bank Stadium  had long since filed out on Monday night, save for a group of several dozen Packers fans who congregated above the tunnel in the stadiums southwest corner. They chanted Go Pack Go, cheered the Green Bay players  who emerged on their way to the team bus after dispatching the Vikings 23-10  and collected autographs from the ones who decided to stop and sign.

Not since the 2018 season (and never for the Vikings biggest rivals) had the stadium felt so friendly to a visitor. The Vikings entered the day as the NFLs only undefeated team at home, facing a Packers team that hadnt won in the building in three tries. It seemed, as the Purple faithful pushed noise levels toward 120 decibels, the perfect stage for Vikings pass rushers to badger Aaron Rodgers, for the team to stand up to a formidable opponent on a big stage and for the Vikings to make their playoff path more favorable.

Instead, the postseason path for these Vikings will consist entirely of road games after a trivial home finale against the Bears on Sunday. They will be the NFCs No. 6 seed, learning their postseason destination through the results of other games next week, after their last, best opportunity to stand up tall in the regular season slipped through their fingers.

Despite three first-half takeaways against a Packers offense steeped in self-nullification, the Vikings chances for their third NFC North title in five years officially expired. They gained only 139 yards, posted seven first downs all night and held the ball for only 22 minutes, 28 seconds, placing a heavy burden on a defense that eventually broke after playing 75 plays.

Aaron Jones second touchdown run of the game  a 56-yard burst off the left side of the Green Bay line  closed out the scoring as the Packers scored 20 consecutive points after falling behind 10-3.

Green Bay ran for 187 yards before three Rodgers kneel-downs, taking some of the workload off its quarterback as he misfired on several passes and watched his receivers drop two others. Without Dalvin Cook, though, the Vikings could manage only 57 yards on the ground, while Kirk Cousins threw for only 122 yards and was intercepted by Kevin King for the second time this year.

The Packers clinched their first NFC North title since 2016 with the victory  their first at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Honestly today and tomorrow, we should let it sting a little bit, said linebacker Eric Kendricks, who left because of a quadriceps injury and missed the second half. We should let it sting. We have to know what we did wrong, watch the film, make corrections and things like that. But we should definitely let it sting, then let it go in 24 hours or so and then get back to work. Were blessed to be able to play again. We worked hard all season to put ourselves in this position, but we have to play better in these games for sure.

Cousins, who fell to 0-9 on Monday Night Football, threaded a touchdown to Stefon Diggs on a 21-yard throw with Jaire Alexander in tight coverage to put the Vikings up 10-3, but was later picked off on a deep ball to Diggs after King  who intercepted Cousins at the end of the game between the teams in Week 2  broke from the back side of the play.

ESPNs cameras captured a sideline exchange between Cousins and Diggs after the play where the quarterback appeared to be saying, I didnt see the backside corner on the interception.

VideoVideo (04:33): Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins says there is a long list of things that went wrong in their 23-10 loss to Green Bay, including the touchdown that was called back for holding.

I was just trying to bring him across the field, and the backside corner sank, and so he made the play, Cousins said. I probably shouldnt have brought him across the field; either take him vertically, or press on.

He was pressured consistently by a Packers defense that sacked him five times, leaving him with little room to work. And with Cook out because of chest and shoulder injuries, the Vikings resorted to some curious play calls, like a Philly Special-esque play on third-and-5 when Stefon Diggs overthrew Cousins and a jet sweep to Adam Thielen that gained one yard on a third-and-2.

Zimmer, who said he had told his offensive coaches to be aggressive, didnt put the game on his quarterback.

Im not going to get into this Kirk-Cousins-on-Monday-night thing, and all this stuff, Zimmer said. Offensively, we didnt play as well as we could play. Ill say that, OK? Defensively, we could have played the run better. Theres a lot of things we need to clean up.

They will get their chance to do so on Sunday against the Bears, with little on the line. The next time the Vikings play a game that matters, it will be on the first weekend of January, with no home-field advantage and no more margin for error.

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