Top 10 NFL Games of 2018: #8 Minnesota @ Green Bay Week 2

After the Minnesota Vikings were blown out by the eventual Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship game last season, they knew they had to address their quarterback position. Enter Kirk Cousins on a historic, fully-guaranteed contract. In his first start of 2018, Cousins played well, leading the Vikings to a win.

The Green Bay Packers were starting 2018 bursting with confidence, due to the fact that they got their superstar quarterback, Aaron Rodgers back from injury. That confidence quickly gave way to concern when Rodgers suffered a knee injury in week 1 against the Chicago Bears. Months later, Rodgers would reveal that he had suffered a tibial plateau fracture and a sprained MCL. Despite the injury, Rodgers would go on to lead an insane comeback against the Bears and was ready to go for the next rivalry game: at home against Cousins and the Vikings in Week 2.

First Quarter

Green Bay would start the game with the ball, looking to protect Rodgers by getting the ball out of his hands quickly. A second down sack on their third series eventually forced a punt to Minnesota.

Starting back deep in their own territory, Minnesota’s offense would sputter to a halt, aided by a third down sack. The second punt of the game would reveal the first big moment in this contest.

Green Bay special team’s coordinator Ron Zook delivers the first blow to the Vikings. Zook had Josh Jackson (#37) motion down from his position guarding the gunner to the line of scrimmage. Minnesota’s punt coverage would fail to compensate for the extra rusher and Geronimo Allison (#81) would get a block on the punt. Jackson is in perfect position for the easiest touchdown of his life as the ball falls into his hands while he’s in the end zone. Green Bay takes an early 7-0 lead.

After a big kickoff return by Mike Hughes, the Vikings are set up at their own 43 to start their second drive. This time the Vikings would have success moving the ball downfield, with Cousins peppering his two star wide receivers, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs.

The biggest play of this drive would come on the second play of the series. Minnesota is in 12 personnel, running a simple route combination with seven blockers for Cousins to ensure he can get a throw off. The Vikings are counting on one of Thielen or Diggs to get open for Cousins. Veteran cornerback Tramon Williams is playing zone, giving Diggs (#14) a huge cushion off the line.

Diggs takes advantage of the space Williams has given him by threatening him vertically before breaking his route to the sideline. Creating separation at the NFL level is crucial, and Diggs consistently leaves the defenders guarding him in the dust with his elite route-running.

The Vikings would find themselves in the red zone six plays later when they deliver their first score of the day.

Now in 11 personnel, Minnesota spreads the field. Cousins is reading the safety the entire way on this throw. Laquon Treadwell (#11) is the single receiver to the bottom of the screen. Treadwell gets a good release on cornerback Kevin King and threatens up the seam, moving Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (#21) away from the middle of the field. Treadwell breaks his post route at 10 yards and Cousins delivers a beautiful, accurate ball to put the Vikings on the board.

Rodgers would dink and dunk his way through the Vikings defense aided by successful runs from Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery to end the first quarter.

Second Quarter

The Packers’ drive would continue into the second quarter where they would catch a break. On a 3rd and 2, Mackenzie Alexander would be called for defensive holding, giving the Packers an automatic first down at the Vikings 25. A 13-yard completion to Davante Adams has the Packers inside the 10.

The Packers are in 11 personnel on this play. Davante Adams is the single receiver lined up to the boundary side. To the field, the Packers are running a double china concept. Over the last three seasons, Adams and Rodgers have developed some incredible chemistry, combining for 31 touchdowns.

Rodgers and Adams are in complete mind meld. Adams runs an out route and as soon as he whips his head around out of his break, Rodgers has thrown the ball. Adams sticks his foot in the ground and breaks a tackle from Anthony Barr (#55) to walk in for 6.

The game would enter a lull after the Adams touchdown, with the Vikings punting the following possession and Green Bay the next.

Minnesota would regain possession with 8:21 left in the first half. Cousins would find Dalvin Cook for a 24-yard reception that would put the Vikings near midfield. The Vikings would struggle after that.

The Vikings are in 21 personnel, cue for a run, when Cousins drops back deep in play action. The Vikings’ offensive struggles were well-documented in 2018. Minnesota fired offensive coordinator John DeFilippo in week 14. Kirk Cousins blew up at Adam Thielen on the sideline in week 17 after multiple on field miscommunications. This time Cousins is not able to get on the same page as Diggs. With no safety guarding the middle of the field, Cousins is expecting Diggs to turn his route up into a post when suddenly Diggs chops his feet and turns around for a curl. Minnesota would not gain another yard and would again be forced to punt.

Matt Wile would boom a punt, forcing a Randall Cobb fair catch inside the Packers 10-yard line. The Packers would struggle on the next drive, with an offensive pass interference call on Davante Adams wiping out what could have been a big gain. Green Bay would punt again.

Cousins would lead the following drive to the Packers 30-yard line, where Daniel Carlson would miss a 48-yard field goal.

Aaron Rodgers and Mason Crosby would respond, with the quarterback leading his team into the red zone, giving Crosby an easy 37-yard field goal to end the half. The Packers are up 17-7.

Third Quarter

Adversity would continue to hold back the Vikings in the third quarter with a three-minute, 24-second drive gaining all of 13 yards.

Rodgers and the Packers would respond. Green Bay is faced with a 3rd and 3 when Mike McCarthy calls a play to pick on Mike Zimmer.

Mike Zimmer’s Vikings have been one of the most Cover 3 heavy teams in the league since he was hired in 2014. On this play, the Vikings are running their old reliable Cover 3. Green Bay has a counter. Adams (#17) and Jimmy Graham (#80) are split out to the field side with Graham in the slot. Adams is being covered by Xavier Rhodes (#29), who is playing as a deep third defender. Adams threatens Rhodes vertically, gets Rhodes to open his hips towards the sidelines, then breaks underneath him on a post route. This route also draws the attention of Andrew Sendejo (#34), who is playing as the middle third defender. Graham’s wheel route is completely uncovered over the top because of the attention Adams created. This was the biggest play of the game for either team to this point.

Immediately after the big play Rodgers would be sacked, but an unnecessary roughness penalty against Minnesota would bail the Packers out on a 3rd and 11. Graham would find the end zone on this drive until an offensive holding nullifies the play. The Packers would settle for another Crosby field goal.

A Minnesota three-and-out was followed by a Green Bay three-and-out. Minnesota regains possession with 3:19 left in the third quarter, down 13 points.

Three positive plays and a first down later, Minnesota is threatening to cross midfield.

First and 10 at their own 43-yard line looked like a time to take a shot at the end zone. Cousins takes a deep drop off play action. Diggs is the furthest receiver outside to the boundary, Thielen is in the slot to the field. Diggs sprints down field and cuts for the goal post, Thielen is running a crossing route underneath Diggs. Both receivers are covered and Cousins is forced to improvise. Cousins rolls to his right and makes a great throw on the run to Thielen, who breaks off his route and cuts back to the middle of the field to give Cousins an escape route.

A big Kyle Rudolph completion three plays later puts the Vikings at the five-yard line. Cousins would find Diggs a couple plays later for a touchdown. Minnesota is now only down six.

Fourth Quarter

Despite the knee injury, Rodgers had been playing well to this point. He was accurate, found the open man, avoided turnovers, and even made a few plays with his legs.

Third play of their early fourth quarter drive, Rodgers is picked off by Harrison Smith. Smith would end up being called for defensive holding but an illegal motion penalty on Green Bay results in re-playing the down.

Green Bay comes out 11 personnel. Geronimo Allison is the receiver at the top of the screen. Rodgers drops three steps, and once he hits the top of his drop, he cuts the ball loose, delivering a strike to Allison as soon as he breaks out of his curl route. Once the ball is caught, Allison spins to the outside, shaking Trae Waynes (#26) for a gain of 22 that pushes Green Bay into Minnesota territory.

Green Bay would manage to push into the Minnesota red zone but Zimmer’s defense would stiffen once again, forcing the Packers to kick their third field goal.

Minnesota had to respond quickly if they had any hopes of staying in this ball game.

On second and 10 from their own 25, Minnesota is in 11 personnel with Diggs and Treadwell in a twins formation to the field side. Treadwell runs a crossing route that goes over the middle of the field, drawing the attention of safety Kentrell Brice (#29). Diggs burns past Davon House (#31) and tracks the ball beautifully. Two plays after Green Bay took a nine point lead, the Vikings respond, and it’s a two-point ball game.

Rodgers would get the ball back right away, and had success moving the ball until the Packers got into Vikings territory. The Packers would send Crosby out to nail a fourth field goal of the contest, extending their lead to 26-21.

After a Packers drive that ate up 5:05 of game time, Cousins gets a chance to respond with only 2:13 left in the fourth quarter.

Minnesota is in an 11 personnel, 5-wide formation. Treadwell is split wide with Dalvin Cook in the slot. A slant flat combination is called to both sides of the field. Green Bay is playing Cover 1, the coverage Cousins is looking for. Treadwell is open off of his break and Cousins delivers a strike. The ball bounces off of Treadwell’s hands into the waiting arms of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. A rough game for Treadwell gets worse.

Clinton-Dix sets the Packers up at the Minnesota 13-yard line. Huge pass break-ups in the end zone by Eric Kendricks and Rhodes force Green Bay to settle for a fourth field goal.

With only 1:45 left on the clock, the Vikings are now down by eight and must respond.

Minnesota elects to take a shot at the big play immediately. Cousins sets up after his drop and his protection begins to break down. Clay Matthews (#52) goes underneath Reggie Gilbert (#93) on a stunt and beats Brett Jones (#61). Matthews delivers a big hit on Cousins and the ball sails into the grasp of Jaire Alexander (#23). Game over right? The referees say otherwise. Matthews ends up being called for roughing the passer, putting too much of his body weight on Cousins with the hit. It was a call that would shape how roughing the passer penalties would be called the rest of the season.

Minnesota retains possession and immediately starts moving down the field.

Cousins would hit Thielen and Rudolph multiple times down the field, putting the Vikings at the Green Bay 22-yard line.

Minnesota responded well from the Cousins interception and are on a mission to score. Green Bay is playing a two high coverage, taking away the posts from both sides of the field. Cousins does an excellent job holding the safeties with his eyes and when Thielen breaks up the field on his out-and-up route there is the smallest of windows open. With pressure crashing into his body, Cousins slings the ball to the pylon.

Somehow this ball finds its way between two Packers defenders and Thielen uses late hands in tandem with remarkable concentration to find the ball and fall into the end zone. It’s hard to find a throw and catch better than this during the 2018 NFL season. A ridiculous clutch play by Cousins and Thielen sets the Vikings up for a two point conversion that could tie the game.

The Vikings decide to spread the field once again on their attempt to tie the game. Cousins finds a matchup he likes. Diggs is the single receiver to the boundary and is locked in one-on-one coverage with one of the Packers most experienced cornerbacks, Tramon Williams (#38). Diggs’ elite route running is once more on display. Diggs runs a sluggo route and Williams bites hard on the slant. The separation Diggs creates is fantastic and Cousins delivers another dime. The Vikings have managed to come back and tie.

With 31 seconds left in the game, Rodgers looks to break the hearts of another divisional rival at the buzzer.

Starting from their own 25-yard line, Green Bay calls an unconventional run play that catches Minnesota off guard. A quick spike following an 11-yard Jamaal Williams run and the Packers are on the attack.

After multiple successful Hail Mary attempts, the Packers design a rollout to Rodgers’ right to give the gunslinger space to line up the bullseye. The deep routes are covered but Rodgers continues to roll when he spots Graham behind Mackenzie Alexander. With the flick of wrist, Rodgers puts insane touch on the ball to a spot where only Graham can grab it. Graham finger tip-grabs the ball and being the veteran he is, spins towards the sideline to get the clock to stop.

Mason Crosby and the Packers line up for what would be Crosby’s sixth and game-winning field goal. Moments before the ball is snapped, Zimmer calls a timeout to freeze Crosby and is successful. The second try goes wide left and we head to overtime.

Overtime

Minnesota would win the toss and elect to receive. Cousins was still moving the ball at will. After a big completion to Dalvin Cook, the running back would suffer a hamstring injury. The Vikings offense would fade away shortly after and Daniel Carlson would run on to the field to try and give the Vikings the lead in overtime.

Carlson played well in his NFL debut in week 1, but was struggling on this day. After missing a kick earlier in the game, the pressure was on this time. A career long kick of 49 yards ends up drifting wide right. The miss puts the game into sudden death and now Aaron Rodgers has control.

Green Bay takes over in great field position at their own 39-yard line. Three quick plays and the Packers are over midfield.

A fumble and recovery by Rodgers on 2nd and 1 pushes the Packers back a few yards for third down.

Mike Zimmer is one of the great defensive minds in the NFL and did a great job of mixing up looks on Rodgers all game. Zimmer was attempting to blitz the hobbled Rodgers all game, succeeding three times. With Green Bay threatening, the blitz gets through to Rodgers. Minnesota crowds the line of scrimmage leaving Rodgers guessing at who is blitzing and who is dropping into coverage. After being picked on in coverage for most of the afternoon, Mackenzie Alexander (#20) makes a huge play, getting through the Green Bay line untouched and canceling the Packers efforts to win.

Minnesota has the ball back in crunch time once again.

Green Bay is playing Cover 1. Minnesota receivers flood the left side of the field. Diggs runs a go route from his wide boundary split. Rudolph is in the slot to the boundary and runs a pivot route. Thielen motions down to the field slot and runs a crossing route between Diggs’ and Rudolph’s routes. Cousins has great touch on this ball, it floats over the fingertips of Josh Jackson (#37) and into the sticky hands of Thielen.

Minnesota is able to push the ball all the way into the Green Bay red zone to the 17-yard line, setting up a 35-yard kick for the rookie Carlson to win the game. Mike McCarthy takes notes from Zimmer and freezes Carlson before the game comes to a climax.

Being an NFL player is tough, but being an NFL kicker can be downright grim. One week prior, Carlson looked promising, going 3/3 on extra points and hitting a 48-yard field goal. After going 0/3 on the day he earned a tie for the Vikings in week 2. Carlson was cut the next day.

In order for there to be a tie in the NFL it takes an odd mix of close competitive football with wacky plays sprinkled in. A blocked punt for a touchdown, a 75-yard bomb to pay dirt, a drop-turned-interception and one of the most impressive throw and catches of the season were all key plays in this week 2 tie.

MVP of the Game

Giving an MVP award out for a tie is an interesting position to be in, but the best player on the field this day was obvious. After a solid debut in week 1, Kirk Cousins came out blazing in week 2 against the Packers. With a stat line of 35 completions on 48 attempts, 425 yards, 4 touchdowns and one interception, Cousins outplayed Aaron Rodgers. Cousins’ accuracy could not have been better on this day, hitting everything underneath, deep, and in between defenders.

Re-live this game and watch the highlights here.

Follow Jake on Twitter @JakeSchwanitz. Check out the rest of his work here, including his look at the #9 NFL Game of 2018, #10 NFL Game of 2018, UTEP corner back Nik Needham, & how Sony Michel was eased into his rookie season.

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