Two high-priced quarterbacks will face off Sunday night at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis in prime time when the Green Bay Packers meet the Minnesota Vikings in a game both teams need to win to enhance their playoff chances.
The Packers (4-5-1) and Vikings (5-4-1) played to a 29-29 tie on Sept. 16 in Green Bay as Vikings rookie kicker Daniel Carlson missed three field goal attempts, including two in overtime.
Carlson was released after that game and Dan Bailey is now doing the kicking for Minnesota.
But the focus Sunday night will be on Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins and Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Cousins had perhaps his best game of the season against the Packers, going 35 of 48 for 425 yards, four touchdowns and one interception.
However, Cousins and the Vikings have struggled in prime-time games, such as in last Sunday night’s 25-20 loss to the Chicago Bears when Cousins threw two interceptions.
The loss allowed the naysayers to bring up his career 4-12 record in prime-time games in conjunction with the three-year, $84 million contract he signed to be the Vikings’ franchise quarterback.
“For me, to answer that, I’d have to like be reading it and knowing about it,” Cousins said Wednesday when asked how his contract has brought added scrutiny. “I really don’t know what’s being said or what’s being scrutinized. I honestly can’t tell you. I know that as an NFL quarterback who’s playing, you’re going to get scrutinized.
“I was making league minimum my fourth year in Washington, and I was pretty scrutinized that year, too. So I think it goes without saying that when you’re an NFL quarterback, you’re going to be judged and evaluated inside the building and outside the building, and you understand that’s what you signed up for, and that’s certainly part of the job.”
The Vikings have already lost three prime-time games this season, and head coach Mike Zimmer has taken notice.
“Talked to the coaches about it the other day and Terence (Newman) was in the room; do guys approach these games differently?” Zimmer inquired. “And, really, not so much.”
Zimmer couldn’t put his finger on the reason for those results.
“I honestly don’t know,” Zimmer said. “I guess we’re playing good teams, might be the real factor.” The combined record of the three teams they lost to this season — the Rams, Saints and Bears — is 26-5.
Indeed, prime-time games typically feature two good teams, although the Packers are struggling to be included in that category.
They have lost four of their last six games, including last Thursday’s 27-24 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
“For a team to take off the way we need to take off, we need those plays to jump out, those wow plays,” Rodgers said. “We need something to rocket-ship us to where we need to go. It starts with me. I’ve got to bring the tempo, I’ve got to bring the energy and guys to feed off of me, and then we’ve got to make plays. We’ve got to step up and find a way to get a win.”
Complicating matters for Green Bay is its 0-5 record in road games. This will end a stretch of four road games in five weeks for the Packers after their bye. The Packers blew a late lead on the road against the Rams, fumbled with a chance to take the lead away from home against the New England Patriots and blew a fourth-quarter lead in Seattle.
“It’s hard to put my finger on that,” Packers receiver Davante Adams said. “It’s getting a full and complete game. We had the one in L.A., but that one didn’t go our way at the end and didn’t play a complete second half in New England. Now it’s just completing that game and making plays all game and staying aggressive. If we go up late, it’s keeping our foot on the gas.”
Rodgers has an outstanding touchdown-to-interception ratio with 19 scoring passes against one pick, but his two-touchdown, no-interception game against the Seahawks was not enough.
The same goes for Adams, who had 10 catches for 166 yards, his most productive game of the season. He needs just 47 receiving yards for a 1,000-yard season.
Adams ranks fifth in the league in receptions with 72, but that is just one reception ahead of Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs, and 13 behind Minnesota’s Adam Thielen, who leads the NFL with 85 catches and is third in receiving yards per game at 101.3.
Diggs and Thielen will challenge a Packers secondary that has been plagued by injuries and personnel moves all season. In the loss at Seattle, Minnesota played without cornerback Kevin King (hamstring) and safety Kentrell Brice (ankle) and lost cornerback Bashaud Breeland (groin).
“Change is the challenge for continuity and consistency,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “But it’s the NFL. You’re going to be at some level of change each week. When one guy doesn’t practice, it’s not only that individual, it’s also the intricacies of how he’s tied to the other players. It’s a challenge.”
Minnesota needs to be effective through the air because it ranks 31st in the league in rushing, averaging 84.7 yards per game.
Green Bay has been relying more on running back Aaron Jones lately. He leads the NFL with 6.36 yards per carry, and had 145 rushing yards in the 31-12 victory over Miami on Nov. 11 before being limited to 40 yards by the Seahawks.