Thielen, Cousins carry Vikings past Packers
In what was practically an elimination game for the NFC playoff race, the Minnesota Vikings dominated the Green Bay Packers en route to a 24-17 win Sunday night at Minneapolis.
Kirk Cousins completed 29 of 38 passes for 342 yards and three touchdowns as the Vikings (6-4-1) moved into the NFC's top wild-card position. Adam Thielen tortured the Packers (4-6-1) for eight receptions, 125 yards and one touchdown.
“I felt like I could have played a lot better to help this team,” said Thielen. “Obviously, when you have the guys in our locker room and Diggs making plays and Kirk just back there spreading the ball around. It was a team effort; special teams played great and defense was phenomenal, and we scored points. That’s what we talk about every week. We have to play complimentary football, l and I feel like we did that tonight.”
With injuries galore, the Packers needed a big game from Aaron Rodgers. Instead, the quarterback was 17 of 28 for 198 yards and one touchdown. After scoring touchdowns on back-to-back drives in the first half, the Packers managed only four first downs on their next six drives. Green Bay fell to 0-6 on the road, including losses at the Los Angeles Rams, New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota in the past five weeks.
The Vikings' defense made the game's critical play midway through the third quarter when the score was 14-14. With Green Bay in possession at its 44-yard line and needing to gain a foot on fourth down, Packers coach Mike McCarthy kept the offense on the field. Minnesota defensive end Danielle Hunter and safety Harrison Smith then stuffed running back Aaron Jones at the line of scrimmage.
Dan Bailey's 37-yard field goal on the subsequent drive gave Minnesota its first lead, 17-14.
On the ensuing possession, the Packers were without injured left tackle David Bakhtiari, left guard Lane Taylor and receiver Equanimeous St. Brown, who was starting for injured veteran Randall Cobb. On third-and-12, Sheldon Richardson sacked Rodgers. A big punt return by Marcus Sherels gave Minnesota the ball at Green Bay's 31.
Four plays later, the Vikings were in the end zone. Cousins booted to his right and threw the ball to Thielen, who stepped through one tackle and pinballed between two more defenders for a 14-yard touchdown that made it 24-14.
“It shows his character and what kind of player he is to just not really care what people talk about him and not care what happened last week and to go out there and play some really good football,” said Thielen. “The throws he was making and his full game was really impressive, and that’s what you expect of him.”
The Packers finally got something going late in the fourth quarter. A 25-yard completion to tight end Jimmy Graham and a 36-yard completion to receiver Davante Adams had Green Bay in good position. However, on third-and-1, Rodgers overthrew Adams for what should have been a 20-yard touchdown. Mason Crosby's 38-yard field goal pulled Green Bay within 24-17 with 2:20 to play.
Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph recovered the onside kick and Cousins hit Stefon Diggs for the clinching third-down conversion.
“It feels so good to win in general,” Thielen said. “In this league, winning isn’t easy and it takes so much effort. It takes so much practice and time and energy to win, so when you win it feels good. And against a division opponent, a team that has owned this division for a while, it feels good to beat them at home.”
According to Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Thielen has a NFL-most 93 catches, topping his career high of 91 last year. He is on pace for 135 this year, which would break Cris Carter’s team mark of 122. Thielen is second in the NFL with 1,138 yards, putting him on pace for 1,655, which would break Randy Moss’ team mark of 1,632.
Despite the Vikings doubling up the Packers in total yardage (280-139) and Cousins ripping the Packers' depleted secondary for 254 passing yards, the game was tied 14-14 at halftime. Bailey's two missed field-goal attempts, including a 56-yarder on the final play of the half, prolonged a stalemate that began with the 29-29 tie between the teams at Lambeau Field in Week 2.
(Field Level Media contributed to this story)