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Welcome to the rivalry, Kirk: Cousins’ classic comeback killed by kicker

GREEN BAY, WIS. – If Aaron Rodgers had been playing on Sunday with an eye patch, his left arm in a sling and two peg legs, the Minnesota Vikings still would have expected a battle on Sunday. NFC North newbie Kirk Cousins proved he was up to a playoff-style game in Lambeau — but one of the QBs was let down repeatedly by his special teams unit.

Cousins led a game-tying drive capped by two brilliant throws to Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs with under one minute remaining. Down 29-21, Cousins pushed the ball down field — aided by a Clay Matthews personal foul — to set up a 22-yard touchdown pass to Thielen. Cousins then dropped the ball in the bucket to Diggs for a tying two-point conversion.

Rodgers, who didn’t appear to be slowed by a cartoonish brace on his knee, completed a 27-yard pass to Jimmy Graham to set up a field goal by Mason Crosby. After being iced, Crosby missed and sent the game to overtime.

Cousins came through twice in OT — and kicker Daniel Carlson missed both times, ending the game in a 29-29 tie.

The Vikings were forced to play from behind for the entire game. Through three quarters, they produced just seven points and entered the final period trailing by 13 despite quarterback Kirk Cousins going 21-for-28 with 206 yards and one touchdown.

Minnesota especially struggled to move the ball on the ground in the first three quarters. Dalvin Cook gained a total of 32 yards rushing heading into the fourth. Lacking a rushing attack, they were forced to punt four times, including one that was blocked for a touchdown.

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On occasion, Cousins and the Minnesota offense moved the ball early in the game, but struggled to finish drives. With 4:25 left in the first half, Cousins completed three straight passes, setting up third-and-6 at the Green Bay 31. The Vikings gained one yard on a throw to Thielen and then missed a 48-yard field goal. To open the third quarter they gained 20 yards on two runs and throws to Diggs and Thielen, but Cousins was sacked by Kenny Clark to end the drive.

Rodgers wasn’t exactly in Hall of Fame form, but flashed just enough brilliance to put Green Bay in front for the majority of the contest. He tossed a touchdown pass to Davante Adams in the second quarter and then led a field goal drive from Green Bay’s 35 to Minnesota’s 19 to close out the half up 17-7.

When the Vikings found the end zone again early in the fourth to close the gap to a six-point advantage, Rodgers flipped the switch back on. The Packers drove the length of the field again while bleeding the clock. With just over eight minutes left, Linval Joseph made a key stop on third-and-1 to keep the Vikings within shouting distance at 23-14.

Cousins came through with the huge play the Vikings needed, striking on a bomb to Diggs for a 75-yard touchdown. Anyone who visited training camp had seen that play before.

With the Vikings trailing 23-21 late in the game, Rodgers did it again. On third-and-8 with under four minutes remaining, he completed a pass over the middle for a key first down to put Green Bay in field goal position.

Down 26-21 , Cousins was intercepted by safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. The Vikings’ defense gave their offense one last shot by stopping the Packers to keep the game within eight.

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Green Bay continued to give Minnesota chances. With under two minutes left, Cousins threw another pick but Clay Matthews was called for a roughing penalty, keeping the game alive.

Cousins took full advantage, leading the game-tying drive. He took care of business in overtime, hitting Cook for a huge gain on screen to set up a 49-yard field goal.

Unfortunately for Cousins, his special teams did zero favors on Sunday. Daniel Carlson missed again, giving Rodgers the ball at the Minnesota 39.

But the Vikings’ defense came through sacking Rodgers on third down. Cousins hit Thielen on a deep crossing route to put his team in field goal position again. Diggs picked up a first down on third-and-3, setting up a chip shot this time for Carlson.

And he missed again. All wide right.

That’s how they play ‘em in the NFC North.

Despite the tie, it would seem the executive who said Cousins is “not a finisher” will have to tweak that take for now. He ended the game with 425 yards and four touchdowns.

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