The Packers had the ball for just six plays in the final 12 minutes of the fourth quarter but the defense mustered every ounce of will in a remarkable performance that spelled the difference between a three-game losing streak and a first-place tie with Chicago at 4-3.
The drama, which percolated from the opening kickoff in this hotly contested rivalry, intensified after Green Bay turned the ball over on downs early in the fourth quarter while clinging to a 28-24 lead. With Adrian Peterson running for 30 yards on three attempts against a depleted Packers defensive line, the Vikings got into position for at least a field goal. But on third-and-7, Brett Favre threw his third interception, with Nick Collins swooping in past Percy Harvin. But the Packers could manage only a first down on the ensuing possession, and the Vikings took over at their 17 with 6:07 remaining.
Peterson converted a fourth-and-1 with a 5-yard run, and a 7-yard completion to Harvin set up a third-and-5 at the Packers' 48 at the two-minute warning. Facing Green Bay's Psycho package for the first time, Favre went to Harvin again, but Charlie Peprah broke it up, setting up another fourth down. Seeing Psycho again, Favre called timeout, with 1:51 showing on the clock. Favre diagnosed the blitz and the Vikings picked it up perfectly, and he hit Moss for 13 yards to the Packers' 35.
On first down, Jarius Wynn sacked Favre for a 6-yard loss, forcing a timeout with 1:10 to go. With nobody in a Lambeau Field throng of 71,107 sitting, coach Brad Childress called the perfect play, a screen to Peterson, which picked up 26 yards all the way to the 15.
Drama? You want drama?
A false start moved the Vikings back 5 yards, then Clay Matthews – held in check for most of the game — ran around right tackle Phil Loadholt, drawing a 15-yard personal foul as Loadholt prevented a sack by grabbing Matthews' face mask. That made it first-and-30 from the 35. Favre, with all day in the pocket as the Packers rushed just three, hit Harvin in the back of the end zone against a host of the Packers. A touchdown was signaled with 48 seconds to go and Favre celebrated as though he had stuck it to his former team yet again, but a review showed Harvin's second foot was out of bounds.
Favre then dumped it to Peterson for 15 yards to the 20, with a timeout with 37 seconds. On third-and-15, Favre rolled right and threw back across the field and into the end zone to Moss, but he was well-covered and Favre's pass was well out of reach.
That set up an all-or-nothing fourth down for a team that had lost three games by three points each. Favre rolled left and slipped to the turf. He got up and threw the ball to Moss in the back of the end zone, but the ball was high and Desmond Bishop hit Moss just to make sure. The ball fell incomplete, Aaron Rodgers took a knee and the Packers could exhale after their most nerve-wracking victory in a long, long time.
The concourse practically shook after the game, with ecstatic fans continuing the cheering that had rocked the stadium for most of the preceding 3 hours.
Favre, who was practically perfect in the Vikings' two-game sweep last season, self-destructed in the third quarter. Minnesota led 17-14 and had just forced the Packers to go three-and-out on their opening possession of the second half. On third-and-4, Brad Jones chased Favre from the pocket and grabbed his ankle right as Favre threw the ball. The ball went right to A.J. Hawk, whose return set up the Packers at the Vikings' 41.
On third-and-5, Rodgers had all day and hit James Jones for 17 yards. One play later, Greg Jennings toasted Asher Allen and ran to the post, where Rodgers hit him for a 14-yard, go-ahead touchdown.
On the ensuing possession, Favre – who had limped off the field after the previous interception -- was pressured late by C.J. Wilson and he threw it right to Bishop, who had a convoy for an easy 32-yard touchdown return. Just like that, the Packers led 28-17.
Childress said he considered benching Favre but gave the 41-year-old one more chance. Given a short field when the squib kick hit a member of the Vikings' front wall, Favre drove the Vikings 58 yards for the touchdown. The big play came on third-and-1, when his play-action fake freed up Harvin against Charles Woodson for 37 yards. That set up his touchdown pass to Moss on third-and-2 from the 4.
The Vikings led 17-14 at halftime. It was a typical story for the Packers, who piled up a whopping 268 total yards but had only two scores to show for it. With the Packers' first drive reaching the Vikings' 18, Rodgers threw a screen to Dimitri Nance right into the mitts of Jared Allen for an interception. Then, late in the half, Rodgers got greedy on second-and-10 from the Vikings' 27 when he scrambled out of the pocket and threw the ball into the end zone for Jennings. Frank Walker – a former Packer – got a hand on the ball and Madieu Williams made the grab for Rodgers' second pick. Another Packers drive ended on a fake of a 55-yard field goal, with Matt Flynn missing Andrew Quarless inside the Vikings' 15.
In between, Rodgers hit Jennings for 24 yards and James Jones for 45 to set up Brandon Jackson's 1-yard touchdown run to give Green Bay a 7-0 lead. The Packers made it 14-7, with a 32-yard catch by Jones and a 36-yard screen to Jackson setting up a Rodgers-to-Quarless 9-yard touchdown.
In a game of seemingly a million moments, Matthews made the play of the game. On first-and-15 from the Packers' 20, Matthews roared around the edge. Loadholt had played a superb game, both in pass protection and in the run game, but he was beaten by Matthews and grabbed a hold of Matthews' face mask. The 15-yard penalty moved the Vikings back to the 35, and allowed defensive coordinator Dom Capers to play the percentages by dropping eight men into coverage for the game's final two snaps.
B.J. Raji finished with four tackles, with nary a big-impact play among them. But with Cullen Jenkins sidelined by a pregame calf strain and Ryan Pickett exiting early when he aggravated his sprained ankle, the 340-pound Raji played all but about three of the Vikings' 66 offensive snaps. It was the guttiest performance among a defense full of gutty performances.
Three: After watching Favre carve them up for seven touchdowns and no interceptions in the two games last year, Favre threw picks to Hawk, Bishop and Collins. Or, for another three: The number of touchdowns the Vikings lost on replay reviews.
Rodgers, on the final sequence: "My heart kind of dropped. Matt Flynn and I were standing next to each other when Percy (Harvin) caught that ball and just thanking God that he was out of bounds. You've got to give our defense a lot of credit. When they needed a stop, they were able to get a stop."
In the only other division game on Sunday, the Redskins beat the first-place Bears 17-14. Jay Cutler was sacked four times and threw four interceptions – all four by DeAngelo Hall, tying an NFL record. Cutler's pitiful performance wasted a strong effort by a Bears defense that picked off Donovan McNabb twice and forced six fumbles (but recovered only one). Both teams are 4-3. Detroit (1-5) was enjoying its bye week.
The other things you might have missed
-- The Packers entered the game with five linemen on the active roster but were down to just three after Jenkins' pregame injury and the early-game injury to Pickett. They were so short-handed that offensive lineman T.J. Lang played in short-yardage situations and outside linebacker Frank Zombo played defensive end at times in the fourth quarter.
-- Donald Driver's 133-game streak with at least one reception – a franchise record -- came to an end. Driver, who missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday with an injured quad, had just one pass thrown his way, a second-down incompletion in the fourth quarter.
-- Rodgers was sacked 14 times in the two games against Minnesota last year but wasn't sacked on Sunday and was hit just three times. Jared Allen, with 7.5 sacks in those games, got one hit while facing left tackle Chad Clifton.
-- The Packers' inactives: fullback Quinn Johnson, linebacker Brady Poppinga (knee), linebacker Maurice Simpkins, right tackle Mark Tauscher (shoulder), guard/center Nick McDonald, guard/tackle Marshall Newhouse (back), defensive end Mike Neal (shoulder) and defensive end Michael Montgomery. Bryan Bulaga started in place of Tauscher.
-- Running back Dimitri Nance, who hadn't seen time in the backfield since the Detroit game just a few days after he was signed, entered on the Packers' first possession. Rodgers' screen to Nance was intercepted by Allen.
-- The Packers' 19-game streak of not allowing a running back to rush for 100 yards was halted by Peterson, who rumbled for 131 yards on 28 hard-charging carries. The Packers' streak was the longest in the league. As a team, Minnesota rushed for 196 yards.
-- That interception by Rodgers was his first career pick in the red zone. His career touchdown-to-interception ratio had been 42-to-0.
-- The crowd of 71,107 was the third-largest regular-season turnstile count in franchise history.
-- Rodgers' 166 first-quarter passing yards was a career high.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.