For most of the 2016 season, the Minnesota Vikings have depended on their defense to either win games or keep them in games. But, as Minnesota was eliminated from playoff consideration after losing for the eighth time in 10 games, in a 38-25 blowout loss to the Green Bay Packers, it was the defense that allowed the floodgates to open.
The Vikings defense allowed Aaron Rodgers to complete 19 of 22 passes for 268 yards with three touchdown passes and one touchdown run in the first half alone – on his way to being the first quarterback to throw for 300 yards on the Vikings defense this season.
Head coach Mike Zimmer said Saturday’s loss was a complete system failure – from defense to offense to special teams. Especially bothersome to Zimmer was the fact that the Packers were able to make big plays through the air, posting five plays of 20 yards or more in the first half.
“They played a lot better than we did today,” Zimmer said. “They beat us in most every phase. Defensively, we didn’t play well enough. We didn’t cover anybody, especially in the first half. It’s disappointing.”
For the second straight week, a hot quarterback completely dismantled the Vikings defense in the first half, shredding them for big points and building a giant lead. Last Sunday, Andrew Luck and the Colts beat up the Vikings defense for 281 yards and scored five times to build a 27-0 halftime lead. On Christmas Eve, Rodgers led the Packers on four first-half touchdown drives, with 14 points coming off two Minnesota turnovers to build a 28-13 halftime lead.
Zimmer said the Vikings defense wasn’t playing lethargic like they did last week, but Rodgers was able to buy time in the pocket and make plays downfield.
“He made some great throws, (they made) good catches and we messed some things up,” Zimmer said. “We’ll have to do a better job getting them taught the things they need to be taught.”
As hard as the Indianapolis game was to swallow, having a repeat first-half meltdown wasn’t what the Vikings expected as they tried to keep their dim playoff hopes alive at Lambeau Field. Dim turned into lights-out in a hurry.
Allowing the Packers to pile up almost 300 yards by halftime and put the game on cruise control to close out the win in the second half had a lot of players and coaches scratching their heads.
The disappointment of the 2016 season came to a head in Sunday’s loss, as the offense did enough to get the team in the position to win, but allowing 38 points – the second-most points in any game coached by Zimmer with the Vikings and totaling 72 in the last two games – had Zimmer openly questioning his players.
Some will argue that injuries were what derailed the Vikings’ 2016 season and that the team has shown resilience in battling through a series of setbacks that have marred the season.
Zimmer wasn’t making any excuses for the 2016 collapse that made the Vikings one of the rare teams in the modern era to win their first five games and not make the playoffs. He said that, following next week’s season finale against Chicago, he is going to evaluate everything about the team – the players, the coaches and even his own performance as head coach.
“Obviously, we’re not resilient enough,” Zimmer said. “We’re supposed to win games, not just be resilient with the stuff that happens. I need to do a better job. I haven’t done a good enough job this year.”