Punchless Pack pushed further back, after punt-filled loss

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — When Aaron Jones crossed the goal line early in the second quarter, capping a 75-yard drive that gave Green Bay a 14-7 lead at Minnesota, the Packers again put themselves in favorable position for a victory on the road against a winning team.

That's a formula coach Mike McCarthy's backsliding bunch has yet to figure out this year.

Unlike so many of his past teams with Aaron Rodgers at the helm, these Packers just keep on stumbling down the stretch. Now they'll probably need a perfect finish to squeeze into the playoffs.

Kirk Cousins passed for 342 yards and three touchdowns without a turnover for the Vikings, who overtook the depleted Packers for a 24-17 victory on Sunday .

"We'll see what we're made of for the last five weeks," Rodgers said. "Are we going to stick together through these tough times, or are we going to start splintering? I'd like to think that the leadership is in place that we can stick together through whatever happens, but these five weeks will show it."

The Packers went three and out on their first possession, only because Davante Adams accidentally stepped out of bounds before making what would've been a chain-moving catch on third down. Then Rodgers finished the second drive with a vintage back-shoulder touchdown throw to Adams , before Jones raced around left end on a crack toss sweep that Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said afterward was a perfect call for the defensive play he had dialed up.

But the Packers went three-and-out the next time they had the ball and didn't score again until a field goal with 2:20 left in the fourth quarter. Over their final seven possessions, they punted five times and had a turnover on downs when Jones was stopped on fourth-and-inches midway through the third quarter at their 44-yard line. On that final drive, Adams had what would've been a touchdown catch on third-and-1 at the 20 slip through his hands.

"Our third down has been our black eye," McCarthy said.

The Packers (4-6-1) fell into 10th place in the NFC. They were beaten up, mentally and physically, by this five-game slog with losses on the road against the Rams (10-1), Patriots (8-3), Seahawks (6-5) and Vikings (6-4-1) when they were either tied or leading as late as the third quarter in each of those four games.

The schedule softens, with four losing teams on the slate: home games against the Cardinals (2-9), Falcons (4-7) and Lions (4-7) and a trip to play the Jets (3-8) following a rematch with the NFC North-leading Bears (8-3) on the road. There's a legitimate question, though, about whether the Packers have enough steam left to win out like they did in 2016 with six straight victories to win the division at 10-6 and reach the NFC championship game.

"I knew we had a tough stretch. Four really tough places to play," Rodgers said. "I didn't think we'd go 1-4 on that stretch, but that's where we're at. We're here: 4-6-1. We have to win our last five, and even that might not be enough."

This will be the first time since Rodgers took over as the starter in 2008 that the Packers don't reach double-digit wins in the regular season when Rodgers doesn't miss any games to injuries. They were 7-9 in 2017 and 8-7-1 in 2013 when Rodgers broke his collarbone. They were 6-10 in 2008.

The injuries are the most tangible reason why the Packers might not be able to recover to reach the playoffs this year. Already missing several starters, they saw left tackle David Bakhtiari, left guard Lane Taylor, wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown, wide receiver/kick returner Trevor Davis and safety Kentrell Brice all leave the game with injuries.

The Packers, though, have been missing that mojo they've had so often in the Rodgers era all year long. This was their season low in points (14) and yards (254).

"Sitting on the sideline, we kept asking ourselves why we're so unlucky," said Jones, who had 93 total yards on 20 touches.

He added: "You can tell the guys in this locker room want it. We want it more than anyone else, and we're right there each and every game, but it feels like it gets taken from us."

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