GREEN BAY, Wis. — Mike Zimmer wants the Vikings this season to live by the run. On Sunday, they died by a pass.
On their way to rushing for 198 yards, the Vikings strangely abandoned the ground game when it mattered most. Kirk Cousins then threw a fatal interception in the end zone in a 21-16 loss to Green Bay at Lambeau Field.
The Vikings (1-1) had clawed their way back from a 21-0 deficit to get within 21-16 with 5:17 remaining in the game. Dalvin Cook was on his way to a career-high 154-yard rushing game and Minnesota had just run the ball on seven of eight plays, gaining 47 yards.
So why didn’t the Vikings continue to pound the ball on first-and-goal at the Packers 8?
“That’s a good question,’’ said Zimmer, Minnesota’s coach. “We thought we had them tired. They were having trouble getting lined up. We thought we’d catch them.’’
Hardly. Cousins’ pass in the deep right corner of the end zone to Stefon Diggs was picked off by cornerback Kevin King.
“It’s uncharacteristic of me,’’ Cousins said. “You can’t do it. What I was thinking was trying to give Diggsie a chance and it’s kind of an our’s or nobody’s (ball). But it was not nobody’s. He went up and made a play, and you just can’t do that.’’
Cousins had a rough outing, completing 14 of 32 passes for 230 yards while throwing two interceptions. He fumbled twice, losing one.
Cousins also pointed the finger at himself for his first interception, when he tried to get the ball to Diggs in traffic in the second quarter, and it was picked off by linebacker Preston Smith.
“It was just a gut-wrenching loss,’’ Cousins said. “I’m proud of the way my teammates fought, kept fighting, but very disappointed in my performance,’’ Cousins said. “I was just not good enough. …. I just didn’t feel like I did my part, and I didn’t feel like I gave our team the chance that it needed.’’
A shaky start on defense also didn’t help. The Packers (2-0) took a 21-0 lead with two touchdown passes from Aaron Rodgers in the first quarter and a 2-yard TD run by Aaron Jones in the first minute of the second quarter.
After the third touchdown, Rodgers was 10 of 11 through the air for 141 yards and a perfect passer rating of 158.3. The Vikings slowed him down the rest of the way and he finished 22 of 34 for 209 yards. But the damage had been done.
“They came out and they were just more ready to start the game,’’ said Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr. “I’m proud of the way we played the rest of the game and shut them down for the most part, but it was a little too little, too late.’’
The Vikings didn’t put much pressure on Rodgers early in the game and he carved them up. He threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Jamaal Williams on the first drive and a 12-yard score to Geronimo Allison on the next drive, which followed a missed 47-yard field goal by Dan Bailey.
Allison beat undrafted rookie cornerback Nate Meadors, who was called up from the practice squad Thursday. After that, Meadors didn’t play the rest of the game on defense.
“They caught us in a couple of things and we were a little banged up in the secondary, so we had to make some adjustments,’’ Zimmer said.
The Vikings were without injured cornerbacks Mackenie Alexander and Mike Hughes and Holton Hill is on the suspended list. But the defensive backs did end up doing OK the last three quarters.
The Vikings cut the deficit to 21-7 when Cook ran 75 yards for a touchdown early in the second quarter. Cook carried 20 times and also caught three passes for 37 yards.
“The line gave me a crease on the back side and I just hit it with all I had,’’ Cook said of his touchdown.
The Vikings’ next two scoring drives came with some controversy. After a 61-yard pass from Cousins to Chad Beebe moved the ball to the Packers 3, Cousins thought he had thrown a touchdown to Diggs with 1:08 left in the first half.
But on an officiating replay, allowed in the final two minutes of a half, the score was disallowed because Cook was called for pass interference. Bailey soon cut the deficit to 21-10 with a 31-yard field a goal.
The Vikings got within 24-16 on a 45-yard touchdown pass early in the third quarter from Cousins to Diggs. But Diggs was penalized 15 yards for removing his helmet, and Bailey had a 48-yard extra-point attempt blocked.
“We had some dumb penalties,’’ Zimmer said. “The penalty after the touchdown, just selfish.’’
The Packers hardly were flawless themselves. They were outgained 421 yards to 335 and Rodgers and Allison both lost fumbles.
But they’ll take it.
“(We’re) 2-0 and 2-0 in the (NFC North),’’ Rodgers said. “So we’re on the right track.’’