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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Exploring the what-if moments and ripple effects from Vikings-Packers

By Matthew Coller

One day after the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers played one of the wildest games in the history of the rivalry, a 29-29 tie at Lambeau Field, the Vikings were still walking around with blank looks, not knowing whether they should be happy about coming back from down 13 points against Aaron Rodgers or be angry they missed an opportunity to take an early lead in the NFC North.

“It feels like a loss,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “I’m sure they probably feel the same way. I don’t know, you’d have to ask them. But there was so many things that happened there, and you got a chance to kick it and win it, and we don’t get it done. It feels like a loss. It obviously is way better than a loss, but we play to win. We didn’t get that part of it.”

For now, the Vikings and Packers are both reminding themselves that there’s a long way to go before we start talking about playoff scenarios. They also know that the tie could play a huge role in deciding things like the wild card, home field advantage and the winner of the NFC North.

In any NFL game, there will be what-ifs. In the Packers’ remarkable Week 1 win over the Chicago Bears, cornerback Kyle Fuller dropped an Aaron Rodgers pass that would have ended the game rather and never allowed Rodgers’ comeback to happen.

But Sunday’s game between the Vikings and Packers had a remarkable number of swings. Just look at ESPN’s Win Probability chart:

When we get to the end of the regular season, there is a very good chance we will be re-living Week 2’s crazy contest and asking all sorts of what-if questions. Let’s have a look at a few of them, the impact they could have and how the swings in Vikings-Packers will shape the narratives going forward…

What if there’s no penalty called on Clay Matthews?

With 1:45 remaining, the Vikings had the ball at their own 25 with the Packers up 29-21. Quarterback Kirk Cousins threw a prayer up to Stacy Coley, who has zero career receptions, and was intercepted by rookie Jaire Alexander. The play was called back because of a highly questionable flag on Clay Matthews for roughing the passer. Following that flag, Cousins led a 75-yard touchdown drive and ultimately two potential game-winning drives in OT.

Cousins threw for 146 yards and a touchdown after the penalty, which would have essentially ended the game. He walked away from Green Bay as the QB who went into Lambeau and stood up to Rodgers on the road rather than having come up short because the offense sputtered for the entire first half.

“He played outstanding last week and everybody was saying he was 0-for-6 in the fourth quarter and this week he’s 14 out of 20 and two touchdowns or whatever it is, everything is a week-to-week thing,” Zimmer said. “I know everybody gets all excited about what this guys didn’t do this week or what this guy did this week, so he’s always been a competitor to me. I thought he played great.”

While Zimmer was even-handed about the impact of his performance, Cousins very likely gained belief among his teammates. He made big-time throws in a difficult environment and put his team in a position to win. Passes like his touchdown to Thielen or 75-yard bomb to Diggs are the types of plays that separate him from 2017 QB Case Keenum and the Vikings got to see that up close. Without the penalty, the perception of Cousins’ day would have been that he made a Keenum-like risky throw in the big moment for a key pick that caused them to lose.

What if Crosby hits the 52-yard field goal at the end of regulation?

The Vikings defense came away from Sunday’s game looking pretty good. They made a number of key third down stops, most notably following a late Cousins INT with just over two minutes remaining. Forcing a field goal kept the Vikings alive. But the defense did not come up big in the final moments when Rodgers hit on a 27-yard pass to tight end Jimmy Graham and a quick out that put Crosby in a spot to win.

Had Crosby made the kick, we would have seen the Vikings’ loss at Lambeau as similar to the 2016 defeat at the hands of the Detroit Lions, who quickly moved to mid-field with only seconds remaining to set up a game-tying field goal from Matt Prater. We might have been questioning whether they could be beaten by good offenses on the road, especially on grass a la Philadelphia.

Of course, this would have also won the game for the Packers, putting them in the driver’s seat going forward in the NFC North. Aside from a September 30 game versus Buffalo, the Packers’ upcoming opponents are all tough. They go to Washington D.C., then play the Lions, 49ers, Rams and Patriots. It would have given them a small cushion to work with in the North race.

What if Daniel Carlson made the game-winning kick?

Clearly the Vikings would have been in great shape in the North race with their remaining regular season game against the Packers coming later in the season at US Bank Stadium, where they have beaten Green Bay in both contests since the stadium opened. The question is whether the Vikings would have held onto Carlson. He missed two field goals earlier in the game — one very wide right — but the fifth-round pick might have kept his job had he made the 35-yarder as time expired.

It’s possible the Vikings saved themselves future heartbreak with Carlson’s miss because they were forced to waive him and sign Dan Bailey. It’s also possible the missed kick will cost them the division.

What if overtime was 15 minutes?

You have to wonder if the Vikings would have been able to slow Rodgers one more time after giving him good field position after Carlson’s third miss. Either way, if the game had ended with someone scoring rather than a tie, we wouldn’t have any conversations about overtime in the NFL. Now there could be some momentum toward some type of college-style shootout when there’s no score after 10 minutes because absolutely no one wanted to see that game end 29-29.

The post Exploring the what-if moments and ripple effects from Vikings-Packers appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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