It was fitting. Sunday’s affair was a rivalry game, pitting two division combatants who each have designs on making the playoffs. Both teams excelled, and they both struggled. There were many fine moments, and plenty of blunders too.
As often happens, the outcome came down to one shining moment by one gifted athlete.
After roaring out to a 21-0 lead a minute into the second quarter, Green Bay slowly but surely lost the momentum that its fan base had helped inject. They were reeling and fatigued, and the Vikings were marching.
With ten minutes to go, Minnesota took over on its own 24-yard line. The Green Bay defense, which was on the field for much of the final three quarters, was fading, and Minnesota was smelling blood. In eight methodical plays, three of which featured a fresh and powerful rookie, Alexander Mattison, providing Dalvin Cook some relief at running back, the Vikings drove to the Packers 8-yard line, where they had a first down and goal to go.
Instead of continuing the ground assault, the Vikings and QB Kirk Cousins took to the air. The target was Stefon Diggs, who had been held to a single catch up to that point – but that one catch (in seven targets) had gone for 47 yards and a touchdown. Diggs appeared open as he raced toward the right back corner of the end zone.
Cousins timed his pass perfectly, lofting it high toward his fifth-year receiving star. Out of nowhere, Packers’ corner Kevin King, a full stride behind Diggs, emerged into the frame, and did his rendition of the Jeff Janis Hail Mary pass in January 2016. He rocketed up, high-pointed the ball, grasped it in both hands, and cradled it into his gut as he descended three feet and landed hard on his back.
As with the Hail Mary play, the impact jarred the ball, but King pinned it against his torso for a second or so, before it squirted away. The announcer called it this way:
Cousins throws a Hail Mary. Kevin King – did he come up with it? . . .The ruling on the field is an interception. . .They’re going to review it. . .Does the ball come out. . .Wow. . .Confirmed, a Packer takeaway.
Minnesota got the ball twice more in the waning minutes, but it was King’s heroics that secured this victory.
When King was drafted 33rd overall in 2017, the Packer coveted his 6’3” height, his 4.43 dash speed, and his 39.5” vertical jump. King utilized all three attributes to create the critical turnover.
This was one of four turnovers registered by the Packers D, two fumble recoveries and two interceptions. Mike Pettine stressed the need for more turnovers throughout training camp, and he’s been rewarded with five of them after two games.
It’s the kind of balletic athleticism that King displayed on Sunday that makes pro football the visual spectacle it is. Courtesy of King and Green Bay’s exceedingly-improved defense, the Packers find themselves alone at the top of the NFC North division.