Outscored on the season, Vikings have plenty of doubters

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — This isn’t how the NFC North champion Minnesota Vikings hoped to perform as they get ready for the playoffs.

Minnesota (12-4) won the division title thanks to 11 victories in one-score games, but the Vikings have also suffered a few lopsided losses that raise questions about their ability to make a postseason run.

Their latest blowout defeat — a 41-17 loss at Green Bay on Sunday — only gives more fuel to their doubters.

“You certainly don’t have a good feeling or good taste in your mouth walking away from this one,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said.

The prolific QB threw three interceptions and lost a fumble as the Packers scored 41 straight points after the Vikings took an early 3-0 lead. The Packers converted all four of those turnovers into touchdowns, with Darnell Savage Jr. scoring on a 75-yard interception return.

Without much help from star receiver Justin Jefferson and running back Dalvin Cook, Cousins couldn’t carry the Vikings. The Packers limited Jefferson to one catch and Cook to 27 yards rushing.

“I just didn’t play well enough tonight,” Cousins said. “Just need to play better, that’s the bottom line.”

In a most unusual season, the Vikings (12-4) have a .750 winning percentage despite their opponents outscoring them by 19 points (414-395). Their season-opening 23-7 home victory over the Packers was their only win decided by more than eight points.

Their four losses have come by an average margin of 22.3 points, the closest a 34-23 defeat at Detroit. The Vikings also fell 24-7 at Philadelphia and 40-3 at home against Dallas before Sunday’s fiasco at Green Bay.

“I think it just comes down to the fact that when we’ve lost lopsided games is we directly contributed to those,” coach Kevin O’Connell said. “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 (points).”

All that happened Sunday.

The Vikings had first-and-goal at the 1 after blocking a punt but settled for a field goal to take a 3-0 lead. Green Bay’s Keisean Nixon returned the ensuing kickoff 105 yards to put the Packers ahead for good. One week after making a 61-yard field goal to beat the New York Giants, Greg Joseph missed each of his two field-goal attempts.

Minnesota’s offense has to be outstanding to compensate for the NFL’s second-worst defense in both yardage and points allowed.

Most of the time, it has been — thanks to Cousins and Jefferson, who has set franchise records for catches and yards receiving. Jefferson opened the season by catching nine passes for 184 yards and two touchdowns against the Packers.

Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander called Jefferson’s season-opening performance a “fluke.” Alexander backed up that talk Sunday as the Packers held Jefferson to 15 yards.

“Just all the yards he had, that’s what I was calling a fluke,” Alexander said. “He was catching passes when there wasn’t nobody even on him. Like, ‘Yeah, OK, good job.’”

The Vikings’ bigger concerns on offense are up front.

Minnesota lost two starting offensive linemen to injuries in the first quarter of Sunday’s game. Center Austin Schlottmann fractured a fibula and right tackle Brian O’Neill hurt a calf. Schlottmann was starting in place of Garrett Bradbury, who missed a fourth straight game with a back injury.

Chris Reed, who hadn’t played an offensive snap all season, took over for Schlottmann at center. Olisaemeka Udoh filled in at right tackle. The Packers noticed the difference.

“They went down to their third center,” defensive tackle Kenny Clark said. “That definitely was a big loss for them. They had a lot of miscues as far as the snap count and all that stuff. That set them behind the 8-ball for sure.”

The Vikings remain confident their offense can bounce back in time for the postseason.

“I think that’s what’s great about this football team is there’s definitely no concern,” wide receiver Adam Thielen said. “I think if anything, it’s going to motivate us to get back and have a really good week of practice and then take it one day at a time.

“This is a very unified group that we can use these for the good, but we have to really kind of put that chip on our shoulder after a tough loss like that.”

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