Vikings crushed by Packers 41-17 at Lambeau Field, drop to 3 seed in NFC

For the second time in three weeks, the Minnesota Vikings had an awful first half largely due to self-inflicted mistakes.

Sunday at Lambeau Field, there wouldn’t be a second half comeback for the Vikings like there was at U.S. Bank Stadium against the Indianapolis Colts. Spotting the Packers a 27-3 halftime lead, the Vikings fell to 12-4 on the season in a 41-17 loss.

The Vikings had a chance to play for the NFC"s top seed and a first round bye with a win at Chicago next Sunday after the Eagles lost their second straight game. They had a chance to knock the Packers, their NFC North rivals, out of the playoffs. They couldn’t recover from one of their worst halves of the season.

The Packers scored three touchdowns on a Keisean Nixon 105-yard kick return, a Darnell Savage 75-yard interception return and Aaron Rodgers hitting Robert Tonyan for a 21-yard score. After Greg Joseph missed his second field goal of the half, Mason Crosby used the crossbar to connect from 56 yards out to end the first half with Green Bay leading, 27-3.

"Very disappointed in our performance today, both as players and coaches. It starts with me. Gotta figure out why I thought what was a good week of preparation, why that didn’t translate to our performance today," Vikings coach Kevin O'Connell said after the loss.

The first Green Bay score might have set the early tone. For the second straight week, Josh Metellus blocked a punt for the Vikings. The offense had the ball at the 2-yard line in the first quarter, but had to settle for a field goal. The Packers answered with Nixon’s kick return touchdown.

"The score can get out of hand in a hurry when you turn it over for touchdowns the other way. You give up a 100-yard kick return, you don’t score when you block a punt and end up on their 1-yard line and come away with three," O'Connell said. "This game is a momentum-based game, eventually it’s just too much for your team to overcome."

Justin Jefferson, needing 209 yards to break Calvin Johnson’s single-season receiving yards record, had no catches on three targets in the first half. He finished with a career-low one catch for 15 yards. 

"I finally came to the realization that I made my mark in this league and every single game, they’re not going to let me get over 100 yards," Jefferson said. "It’s definitely tough getting one catch in the game, wanting to be a big part of the offense, wanting to make big plays for us and not able to do that is definitely hard on myself. It’s frustrating."

Cousins was intercepted three times on the day, the Vikings had four turnovers in total and lost both Austin Schlottmann (ankle) and Brian O’Neill (calf) for the game to injuries in the first quarter. Schlottmann has a fibula fracture in his ankle and is out for the rest of the season. O'Neill is getting an MRI on Monday to determine the severity of his calf.

The Vikings’ only potential touchdown drive of the second half, when it mattered, ended with Kenny Clark getting a strip-sack fumble on Cousins.

On a Packers’ third quarter drive, the Vikings’ defense had 10 players on the field, knew it and didn’t call timeout or get an 11th player on. Later on the same drive, the Vikings got flagged for having 12 players on the field. The drive ended with A.J. Dillon scoring from two yards out to give the Packers a 34-3 lead on the first play of the fourth quarter.

Rodgers added a 2-yard touchdown run with 9:25 to play for a 41-3 lead. Rodgers finished 15-of-24 for 159 yards, and two total touchdowns.

Cousins was 18-of-31 for 205 yards, three interceptions and a 47-yard fourth quarter touchdown to Jalen Nailor, the first of his career. Cousins nearly led the Vikings in rushing with 37 yards, if not for 38 late from Alexander Mattison.

"Just didn’t play well enough tonight. I just need to play better, that’s the bottom line. When you play Green Bay and you turn the ball over, they do a good job of making you pay for it. Just ultimately need to start faster and play better," Cousins said.

With the game in hand, Nick Mullens hit KJ Osborn for a touchdown with 21 seconds to play as reserves played the back half of the fourth quarter.

O’Connell has a decision to make in the regular season finale. Rest your starters at Chicago in the regular season finale and settle for the No. 3 seed, or play to win and hope the San Francisco 49ers lose to the Cardinals. The Vikings are now the No. 3 seed after the 49ers came back to beat the Las Vegas Raiders in overtime, and jumped in front of the Vikings.

"Knowing we’re going to get the opportunity to host a playoff game, we’ve earned that right but now we’ve got to make sure we look at ourselves and find every opportunity to improve as a football team," O'Connell said.

If the Vikings do end up with the No. 3 seed, they are likely to host the New York Giants on Wild Card weekend. On Christmas Eve, the Vikings needed a 61-yard walk-off field goal from Joseph to beat the Giants, 27-24.