GREEN BAY – It was just … strange.
No Aaron Rodgers. An inactive list that looked entirely too much like one from an August preseason game, not a December rivalry game. A lot of purple people eating up seats that normally would have been fetching top dollar on the secondary market if anyone dared sell them.
And the going-nowhere Green Bay Packers playing the playoff-bound Minnesota Vikings for nothing other than pride.
The outcome — Vikings 16, Packers 0 — was hardly surprising. Neither was the number of green-and-gold no-shows in the announced crowd of 78,092 on a night when the kickoff temperature was a frosty 10 degrees with a wind-chill that made it feel like 0. By game’s end, it appeared only Vikings fans remained in the building.
But it was surprising that for the second time this season, the Packers — even without Rodgers, their two-time NFL MVP and perhaps the league’s best player — were shut out, at home. Combined with their 23-0 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Nov. 19, it marked the second time a Mike McCarthy team was shut out at home twice in the same season, having happened in McCarthy’s first season of 2006.
“We didn’t play well enough. I understand we didn’t score any points in another game this year, but that has nothing to do with what happened tonight,” McCarthy said afterward. “No excuses. We didn’t play well enough to win.”
It also marked the second time the Vikings had shut out the Packers in the history of the border rivalry. The first Minnesota shutout came in 1971.
“I never felt more defeated, more embarrassed by a performance,” veteran wide receiver Randall Cobb said.
The Packers, who now stand at 7-8 and must win their regular-season finale on New Year’s Eve at Detroit in order to avoid their second sub-.500 finish in McCarthy’s 12 seasons in Green Bay, officially were eliminated from playoff contention last Monday night, when the Atlanta Falcons beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, ending a franchise-record streak of eight consecutive playoff berths.
The next day, the team decided to shut down Rodgers, whose return to action last week at Carolina after missing seven games with a fractured right collarbone suffered Oct. 15 at Minnesota wasn’t enough to keep the Packers in the playoff hunt.
In addition to Rodgers, the Packers were without No. 1 wide receiver Davante Adams (concussion), outside linebackers Nick Perry (ankle/shoulder) and Clay Matthews (hamstring), cornerback Damarious Randall (knee) and right guard Jahri Evans (knee) and lost wide receiver Jordy Nelson (shoulder), running back Aaron Jones (shoulder), tight end Richard Rodgers (shoulder), safety Josh Jones (shoulder, knee) and right tackle Jason Spriggs (knee) to injuries during the game.
The Vikings, who already had clinched the NFC North division title, improved to 12-3 and can clinch a first-round playoff bye this weekend with some help from other teams.
When the schedule came out in the spring, this game looked like the kind of late-season prime-time matchup that decides division titles and playoff positioning. Instead, without their star quarterback, it never felt like the Packers were truly in the game, even though they were within two touchdowns throughout most of the night.
“Tonight wasn’t perfect by any means on offense. So it hurts,” said backup quarterback Brett Hundley, who was making his eighth start of the season in place of Rodgers. “But you’ve got to find a way to win. We were still in it at the end but we didn’t make a couple plays we needed to make.”
Going against his normal approach, McCarthy took the ball when the Packers won the opening coin toss, presumably as a show of confidence in Hundley. But like many of the Packers’ offensive possessions on the night, it fizzled quickly. The Vikings’ first possession, meanwhile, led to a field goal, which would turn out to be all the points they’d need. The Vikings, who finished with just 236 net yards offensively, pushed their lead to 10-0 with a 2-yard Case Keenum-to-Stefon Diggs touchdown two drives later.
The Packers’ offense finally managed to cross midfield with 4 minutes left in the first half when Hundley took off on a 24-yard scramble and drove the Packers to the Minnesota 15-yard line. But on third-and-3, Hundley threw his ninth interception of the season — against just three touchdown passes — to Vikings safety Harrison Smith, snuffing out Green Bay’s best scoring opportunity.
“Decision-wise, obviously I think he’d like to have the interception back,” McCarthy said of Hundley. “Obviously, it was there early. He held onto it too long.”
The Packers moved the ball again on two more drives but turned the ball over on downs each time. Hundley finished the night having completed 17 of 40 passes for 130 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions for a passer rating of 30.2 — the lowest of his eight starts. In five of the eight games he started, Hundley finished with a passer rating below 50.
“It’s so frustrating. Just because of the fact that I know what I can do,” Hundley said. “I know what my expectations of myself are. They’re higher than anybody watching TV at this moment, any coach. I’m putting in the work, I know what I have to do. To go out there and not be consistent and not give our team a chance to win each game, that hurts. It’s easy to go out there and just play. But when you’ve got 10 other guys busting their butts for you, all I try to do is be consistent, give them an opportunity to win. It’s frustrating.”