By Dave Campbell
AP Pro Football Writer
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Once Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota Vikings took the lead on Green Bay, they played with a fierce refusal to let it go.
They held onto the ball with the same determination.
Cousins bounced back from his worst game of the season with 342 passing yards and three touchdowns without a fumble or an interception, and the Vikings overcame some early gaffes to outlast the depleted Packers for a 24-17 victory on Sunday night.
Completing 29 of his 38 attempts, Cousins found Dalvin Cook , Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen for scores. Diggs and Thielen had eight receptions apiece.
“It just kind of shows his character, shows what kind of player he is, to be able to just not really care what people talk about him, not really care about what happened last week,” Thielen said of Cousins, adding: “The throws he was making, his full game was really impressive. That’s what you expect out of him.”
Sheldon Richardson had two sacks to lead the defense’s game-long stifling of Aaron Rodgers, and the Vikings (6-4-1) pushed the Packers (4-6-1) further back in the NFC wild card race.
The Vikings won a night game for the first time this season after losing to the top three teams in the NFC: to the Rams in Los Angeles, at home to the New Orleans Saints and at Chicago in a two-interception game by Cousins against the first-place Bears. The Vikings entered the weekend with the fourth-most turnovers in the NFL, and Cousins has been charged with 13 of the 16 giveaways.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer was so impressed by the way Cousins played against the Packers that he gave him the game ball in the locker room afterward .
“Last week left a bad taste in our mouths,” Cousins said, “and the chance to come back on Sunday night football against a division rival at home was a great opportunity, and I’m glad we made the most of it.”
Rodgers threw a touchdown pass to Davante Adams and Aaron Jones scored on a short run for a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter, but the Packers fell to 0-6 on the road this season and 1-5-1 against the Vikings in their last seven meetings. Their final seven possessions produced only one field goal, with five punts and one turnover on downs.
“We’ve all got to play better, myself included,” Rodgers said. “Started off the game nice. We had a couple good drives. We’re rolling there. We hit our unfortunate typical lull and didn’t get it going again.”
With Randall Cobb out (hamstring) for a sixth game this season and rookies Equanimeous St. Brown (elbow) and Trevor Davis (hamstring) forced out in the second half, Rodgers didn’t have much to work with down the field. Left guard Lane Taylor (quadriceps) departed in the first half and left tackle David Bakhtiari (knee) was sidelined in the second half, leaving the protection shaky at best. Rodgers finished 17 for 28 for 198 yards, without a turnover.
The Packers failed to move the chains on eight of 10 third downs. Jones was stuffed on fourth-and-inches by Harrison Smith, Danielle Hunter and Eric Kendricks midway through the third quarter, giving the Vikings the ball at the Green Bay 44. That set up a 37-yard field goal by Dan Bailey for Minnesota’s first lead of the game.
“We’re definitely not in the position, record-wise, we thought we would be in coming into the year or even after this game. We thought we could get the victory. But unfortunately we ran out of gas,” Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said. “We’re beat up, no doubt about that. But give them credit: They put in a full four quarters.”
The Vikings outgained the Packers 280-139 in total yardage in the first half, but they had to settle for a tie at the break. About to go for it on fourth-and-inches on the opening drive following a timeout to strategize, they were penalized for 12 men on the field and had to punt.
Diggs collided with Thielen when Jaire Alexander crashed their pick play on the second possession, and after Diggs tried to circle back the other way with an ill-fated salvage attempt he lost 10 yards on that reception to lead to another punt.
Bailey’s wide left 48-yard try wasted another highlight-reel catch by Thielen in between Alexander and Josh Jones that went for 33 yards. Later in the second quarter, after some mismanagement of the clock, the Vikings had to hustle to set up a 51-yard kick for Bailey. That one was good, but Rashod Hill was called for a false start. The 56-yarder sliced right, the fifth straight missed field goal against the Packers after rookie Daniel Carlson went 0 for 3 in Green Bay and was cut the next day.
PACKED AND HAPPY HOUSE
The announced attendance of 66,872 was the largest for the Vikings in three years at U.S. Bank Stadium. A handful of Minnesota players were introduced in the first quarter with Paul Bunyan’s Axe, the trophy the Gophers repossessed from the rival Badgers in Wisconsin on Saturday to end a 14-game losing streak. Randy Moss kept the crowd fired up in a halftime ceremony to receive his Pro Football Hall of Fame ring.
Packers: In addition to the carnage on offense, SS Kentrell Brice aggravated an ankle injury in the first quarter and was knocked out of action in the third quarter with a possible concussion. CB Kevin King and CB Bashaud Breeland were already inactive with injuries.
Vikings: RT Brian O’Neill left in the third quarter for evaluation for a possible concussion. … CB Xavier Rhodes limped off with an apparent injury to his right hamstring in the fourth quarter.
Packers: Host Arizona (2-9) next Sunday afternoon.
Vikings: Play at New England (8-3) next Sunday afternoon.