I’ve never really understood the expression ‘kissing cousins,’ but I certainly felt like doing it after the Vikes’ vastly overpaid quarterback cemented the Pack’s home opening win on Sunday.
It was a wild finish to a game that had a polar opposite start to the opener in Chicago. Here was the Pack’s offense as we imagine it: in rhythm and on target, keeping the Vikes off balance with different looks and a quick tempo. The Pack led 21-0 before you could say Carl Gerbschmidt and most of us were rubbing our eyes to make sure what we were seeing was actually happening.
But alas, all good things must come to an end and the Packers were done scoring for the afternoon. We know that the offense is a work in progress and the fumble by Geronimo Allison was a lost chance to add to the scoring column, as was Rodgers’ incorrect assumption that the Pack had gotten a first down late in the first half. He rushed to the line to make sure the officials didn’t stop the game to check, and the fourth down loss turned the ball over.
So there were more points to be had, but the Vikings’ talented defense and talented defensive-minded coach made the adjustments necessary to shut down the Pack’s fledgling offense in the second half, when things got much tighter than we would have liked.
What I liked about the Pack’s offense in their second performance, beyond the other worldly first quarter, was the commitment to running the football. Aaron Jones’ 23 carries were a career high and he averaged better than five yards per carry against one of the league’s top run defenses. Rodgers got Davante Adams involved early and often, en route to a 100 yard day against Xavier Rhodes. What I didn’t like were a couple of drops by the young receivers, including MVS’s big one at midfield at the beginning of the fourth quarter. I didn’t like that the tight ends weren’t involved at all and obviously, I didn’t like the two fumbles.
Defensively, it was kind of a mixed bag. Overall, the unit played very well, but they gave up four explosive plays: the 75 yard TD run by the electric Dalvin Cook, the long pass to Chad Beebe (Cousins gets credit here for avoiding the sack and getting the pass off), the long TD pass to Stefon Diggs (that Jaire Alexander says he lost in the sun) and a long pass to Adam Thielen.
Those four plays accounted for more than half of the Vikings yards and for the other 56 plays they handled their business, only allowing them to convert 3-13 on third down, and containing the two big play wide receivers–their combined six catches for 124 yards was far below their usual production and basically added up to Adams’ day.
With Alexander and King on the field, this Packers defense is nothing like recent incarnations. The speed, instincts and athleticism jump off the screen. When you combine that with a much improved pass rush, this is a defense that is going to a problem for most teams this season. Kenny Clark was a problem all afternoon–that dude is going to get paid in a big way, before this season ends. They get a bit of a respite in week 3 when Joe Flacco comes to town, but the next two tests, against Carson Wentz and Dan Prescott, will tell us a lot about how far his unit has come and how much it needs to learn.
And now, a brief word on the Diggs touchdown that got called back on the OPI call on Cook. I hate that they review this when no flag was thrown on the field. I think it’s a slippery slope and takes away from the game. The fact is, they review all scoring plays and Cook did interfere with two Packers–the first two yards past the line of scrimmage and then Darnell Savage in the end zone. I’ve watched the play 15 times–he was not blocked into Savage, he put his hands on him and moved him so he couldn’t cover Diggs. The top officiating goochies have all weighed in that this was a proper call, but count me among those who say if they don’t throw a flag, it shouldn’t be called.
I give the Purple a ton of credit for the resolve they showed in slowly fighting their way back from that 21-0 hole. When they methodically moved down the field late in the fourth quarter, mostly on the ground and got into the red zone, my fingernails were pretty much toast. Za’Darius Smith limped off the field and it looked like the Pack would need Rodgers to try to rescue things to avoid one of the biggest collapses in team history.
Ah, but that’s where Captain Kirk steps in. Like Christian Ponder before him, he reverted to the player he tends to be when the game is on the line. One critical decision cost his team a chance at an unlikely victory. Kevin King read the pass headed Diggs’ way, and though #14 had a step on him, King closed and made the game-saving pick. Why the Vikes didn’t continue to pound away on the ground, or use play action, is a head scratcher. They are quickly learning that Cousins is not the guy to lean on in winning time. And that will always be a problem in close games and in the games that matter most, come January.
So the Packers are off to a 2-0 start, with both wins coming within the division. Matt LaFleur is the first Packer coach since Vince Lombardi to win his first two games and there is reason to believe this team is just scratching the surface. We’ll monitor the injuries to safeties Raven Greene and Savage, both of whom left the locker room in walking boots, but otherwise the team seems to have come out of this bruising game intact.
With four out of the next five coming up at home, this team should have a chance to jump out to a lead in the division. And by the time they meet up with Cousins and the Vikings again on a Monday night in Week 16, we can hope that the Pack plays well enough to put the game in Cousins’ hands at the end once again.