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The season isn’t over for the Minnesota Vikings, it just feels that way. Their arch-rival Green Bay Packers came into Minneapolis and seemed ripe to be had. But it turned out, they played a second half, too, and it was the Packers that came through to blank the Vikings in the third and fourth quarters and leave town with a 23-10 victory.
That secures the NFC North for Green Bay at 12-3, while the Vikings slip to 10-5 and suddenly find themselves facing a surly Chicago Bears team this weekend in Minneapolis.
Tell me, long-standing Vikings fans, and even fans of Kirk Cousins as the new poster boy for Vikings resurgence, if you didn’t think it was a bad omen when the Vikings force a quick turnover and recovered for a first and goal — but had to settle for a field goal and a 3-0 lead. It seemed meek, just as it seemed unbelievable that Cousins could loft a pass above and beyond the reach of Duluth’s own C.J. Ham out in the left flat. If the pass is within reach, the Vikings go up 7-0, instead of 3-0.
Still, a nice touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs in the second quarter put the Vikings up 10-3, and even though the Packers managed two field goals before halftime, the Vikings were full of hope, still leading 10-9.
Cousins and Aaron Rodgers both suffered from what can happen when the other team focuses full attention on making your life miserable, particularly in the second half. Consider that for the game, Rodgers was 26-for-40 for 216 yards, no touchdowns, one interception, and a passer rating of only 68.3. Might be his worst of the season.
Cousins, however, was one 16-for-31 for 122 yards, one touchdown, one interception, and a passer rating of 58.8. After being touted for having one of the top passer ratings in the entire NFL, it was a miserable night for Cousins.
But nowhere could be found any other Vikings to pick up the bedraggled quarterback. Consider the total game statistics. Aaron Jones got loose and slashed 15 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter to lift the Packers into a 17-10 lead after three quarters, and the same Aaron Jones ran what looked like a simple sweep around left end, cut in, and raced 56 yards for the Packers’ longest rushing touchdown of the season in the fourth quarter, sealing the Vikings fate at 23-10.
It sealed the Vikings fate because the Vikings failed to score in the second half. Jones carried 22 times for 154 yards. The Packers had 22 first downs to 7 for the Vikings; 184 rushing yards to 57; 199 passing yards to the Vikings puny 82 — for a total yardage edge of 383 to 139. The Vikings sacked Rodgers three times, but the Packers sacked Cousins five times. And the Packers had the ball for 37 minutes, 32 seconds, to the Vikings 22:28.
Not even three first-half turnovers obtained by the Vikings could help them in a game where several NFL teams would have mathematically eliminated the Packers by halftime.
The loss assures the Vikings of being the sixth seed in the NFC where they now await their playoff destination. The Packers join the New Orleans Saints and the San Francisco 49ers at 12-3, in quest of the two first-round byes. The third of those and Seattle (11-4) will be host to the two wild card teams. Seattle, which is banged up so thoroughly that it is taking applicants for running back, has an enormous final game against San Francisco this weekend. The Seahawks beat the 49ers in a fantastic game in San Francisco, and could still win the West Division title by beating San Francisco again.
In the AFC, New England is no longer secure at the top, because Baltimore is a notch above the Patriots and Kansas City is only one notch below them. The Patriots are home against Miami Sunday, while Baltimore is at home against Pittsburgh and Kansas City is home to the Los Angeles Chargers.
If I had my wish come true, it would be to see a Super Bowl between Baltimore and a healthy Seattle outfit. But there’s a lot of grappling before that can unravel.
The college bowl parade starts this weekend, too, with the college football playoff semifinals on Saturday, when LSU faces Oklahoma in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta, and Ohio State takes on Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Ariz.
Other big games this weekend have Iowa against Southern California Friday night in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego, while Michigan State faces Wake Forest in a ho-hum Pinstripe Bowl in New York. On Saturday, Penn State carries the Big Ten hopes against Memphis in the Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas.
The rest of the big bowls are on January 1, which is next Wednesday. That’s when the Golden Gophers take on Auburn in the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla., while Michigan meets Alabama in the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla., and Oregon faces Wisconsin in an intriguing Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., and Georgia plays Baylor in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.
Hard to believe another year is ending, but I do want to thank the many people who stopped by to buy my book, “Miracle in Lake Placid,” at The Bookstore In Fitger’s where I signed a couple cases of books and finished just in time to race out to Essential Heritage Center to watch Duluth East beat Lakeville North in the Greyhounds best performance of the season so far. Hope you have great and fulfilling holidays.