The Minnesota Vikings are still in the playoff hunt after a 24-17 win over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night.
Kirk Cousins outdueled Aaron Rodgers with 342 passing yards and three touchdown to earn a home win at U.S. Bank Stadium. The Vikings moved to 6-4-1 with the victory, which puts them two games and a tiebreaker ahead of the Packers in the standings.
Aaron Rodgers had just 198 passing yards in the loss, and at 4-6-1, the path to the playoffs just got even tougher.
Aaron Rodgers Deserves Plenty of Blame in Addition to Mike McCarthy
Mike McCarthy has been an easy target for blame this season, and much of it is well-deserved. The offense is often unimaginative, while the coach has made plenty of conservative decisions throughout the year.
There won't be too many Packers fans complaining if the head coach is fired at the end of the lost season.
However, Rodgers shouldn't get a free pass for the team's struggles.
When he is at his best, the quarterback is the best player in the NFL at his position, capable of making plays no one else can match. His connection with Davante Adams is at times unstoppable:
On the other hand, an elite quarterback produces throughout the game, and Rodgers simply hasn't done that at the level we have come to expect.
You can blame coaching or injuries, but the team went 2-of-10 on third downs against the Vikings. Last week, the team went 3-of-11 on third downs, and the offense entered the day ranked just 19th in the NFL with a 38.4 conversion rate.
McCarthy hasn't gone for it as often as he could on fourth down, but the drives are stalling because Rodgers isn't making plays when needed.
In other situations, the quarterback is simply missing throws when the opportunities are there:
He missed Adams one more time wide-open in the end zone in the final minutes.
The highlights are still incredible each week, but a quarterback of this ability should be topping 30 points in more than two of 11 games.
Even in some of the wins—including against the Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers—Rodgers came through with last-minute heroics that were only needed because of slow starts.
Rodgers struggled after the first quarter Sunday and shouldn't get a pass this time around.
Vikings Must Trust Dalvin Cook with More Touches Each Game
Dalvin Cook hasn't exactly been what the Vikings expected going into this season, even when you temper expectations coming off a knee injury. He was averaging just 3.6 yards per carry entering the day with zero touchdowns in five games.
His production was much worse (2.4 yards per carry) when you remove his 70-yard run in Week 9.
However, he showed his value on the field Sunday with a 26-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown:
Although he had just 29 rushing yards on 10 carries, he helped the offense with three catches for 47 receiving yards.
While he is still far from a reliable every-down runner, he is a difference-maker in space and is always a threat for a big play. This could provide a lot of value for a team that has been lacking balance on the roster.
Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs represent one of the best—if not the best—receiving tandems in the NFL this season. However, the squad has showed it can't score consistently by only targeting those two players.
Even if Cook struggles at times, giving him 15 touches each game provides opportunities for big plays. Head coach Mike Zimmer has to trust the second-year player and give him as many chances as possible to make a difference.
Packers Defense Doesn't Have Enough Depth to Overcome Injuries
Every team in the NFL is dealing with a lot of injuries at this point of the season, but the Packers have to be especially disappointed with the recent stretch on the defensive end.
Nick Perry was placed on injured reserve Saturday, while fellow starters Mike Daniels, Kevin King and Bashaud Breeland were all inactive for Week 12.
With King, Breeland and Raven Greene unavailable in the secondary, Cousins was able to pick on the young replacements throughout the day. Jaire Alexander has been impressive all season, but he was no match for Thielen, as the receiver finished with eight catches for 125 yards and a touchdown.
Diggs also saw plenty of space on his way to eight catches for 77 yards.
The run defense looked better Sunday, but the unit still allowed over 120 yards on the ground in each of the previous five games.
There is just not enough healthy talent left on the roster capable of keeping up with the better opponents around the NFL. Even as the schedule gets easier over the next month, these players will likely keep struggling to get stops, especially if they can't force any turnovers.
It might not be anything more than bad luck, but it's a big reason this has become a lost season for Green Bay.
The schedule now gets easier for the Packers, beginning with a Week 13 home game against the Arizona Cardinals. Meanwhile, the Vikings go on the road to face the New England Patriots next Sunday.