They had just lost two games in a row to fall to .500. The critics were howling for the heads of Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy. Could Aaron Rodgers ever deliver a clutch performance? Could the Packers not snatch defeat from the jaws of victory with one of their patented close-game meltdowns?
In other words, could the season be saved?
The answer is yes.
Of course, we're talking about last year's Packers. Whether this year's Packers will follow the 2009 team's path remains to be seen, of course, but on this night – with the football world watching – they delivered the gut-check of all gut-checks.
Last year, the Packers had fallen to 4-4 after getting rocked at home by Minnesota and embarrassed at lowly Tampa Bay. This year, the Packers had fallen to 3-3 with back-to-back overtime losses to Washington and Miami.
Last year, with the vultures swirling, the Packers' defense delivered one of the all-time great performances in franchise history in a 17-7 victory over the Dallas Cowboys. The Packers sacked Tony Romo five times and Charles Woodson forced three turnovers. This year, there were no singular individual defensive efforts but the defense as a whole was magnificent in the final 30 minutes.
A.J. Hawk's interception set up a touchdown that put Green Bay in front 21-17. Desmond Bishop turned his interception into a touchdown that made it 28-17. And from there, the defense scratched and clawed and fought and persevered to hold off a Vikings offense that is so talented that there isn't time to exhale.
With Brett Favre just 20 yards away from exacting another pound of flesh from his former team, from pulling off one more miracle victory in his remarkable career, his desperation pass fluttered over the head of Randy Moss.
Game over. Victory. Season saved.
"Relief. It's over. Finally," safety Nick Collins said of his emotions after that last play.
"I was just so overjoyed," nose tackle B.J. Raji said. "I couldn't even speak because I was so tired. I was just so happy inside. The atmosphere was just amazing. I was just looking at the faces of my teammates. It was a long time coming and I'm glad we got this one."
"It was life changing," linebacker Brad Jones said.
It was certainly season changing.
What a swing in the team's fortunes. Lose, and the Packers would be 3-4 and shoving a three-game losing streak into their overhead bins for next week's trip to New York to face the powerful Jets. With the win, however, the Packers are 4-3, tied with Chicago for first place in the NFC North and right in the thick of things in the pit of mediocrity known as the NFC, a conference in which the three teams with the best records all have two losses. Maybe more importantly, the Packers put some distance between themselves and the Vikings (2-4).
"It's crazy, ain't it? It's crazy," cornerback Tramon Williams said after winning his matchup against Randy Moss. "It's a long season. We've got a long way to go. This is just the start."
Where the team goes from here is the big question. Last year, the victory over Dallas was the jumping-off point to a 7-1 second-half run that resulted in an 11-5 season. The Packers certainly weren't perfect in that game, especially on offense, and they certainly weren't perfect on Sunday night, either – not with Rodgers' two bad interceptions taking anywhere from six to 14 points off the scoreboard. But this was just the shot in the arm this team needed after entering the game with three agonizing losses in four weeks.
"It gets us back on the winning track," said left tackle Chad Clifton, who performed brilliantly against nemesis Jared Allen. "It's big for our confidence. It's a big boost. It's a good team over there in Minnesota – a lot of good players. It's a good win for us today and I think it's something that we can build on."
After a week of questioning about their ability to overcome their gag reflex in a close game, the Packers showed the grit of a champion down the stretch. That's especially true on defense. The Vikings took over at their 17-yard line with 6:07 remaining. Remarkably, Minnesota's offense was on the field for the next 17 plays. With future Hall of Famers Favre and Moss, with all-world Adrian Peterson and with the dynamic Percy Harvin, the Vikings kept knocking and the Packers kept turning them away.
"We've been doing this for it feels like a while, fighting these tough games and trying to win them, and we haven't found a way to get them done yet," Hawk said. "It was good for our team. It's a good experience, being in a situation like that and coming out with a win. You've got to win these games if you want to be a great team."
These Packers aren't a great team, not by a long shot. Then again, they weren't last year after beating Dallas, but that win kick-started a dominant second half to the season that was spearheaded by an offense that was practically unstoppable for the final seven games. Whether history repeats itself will be determined over the next couple of months, but this pulsating, heart-pounding victory showed that they're on the right track and put a much-needed spring in the players' step.
"We talked about it as a group in meetings -- by ourselves and no coaches," Williams said. "We knew what we had to do. We knew the talent we've got on this team. We haven't been playing up to our potential. We just wanted to go out and have fun. The fun side of the game kind of disappeared. When that disappears, it's tough. We found that, went out and played intense football for 60 minutes and came out with the victory."
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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 email@example.com, 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.