Hobbled, worn down and a bit weary, just like the gunslinger they were facing, they refused to break, and in the end it spelled a 28-24 victory over the Minnesota Vikings at boisterous Lambeau Field. The win gives the Packers a share of first place in the NFC North with the Chicago Bears at 4-3. The Vikings drop to 2-4.
"We just kept fighting," said Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers. "We starting the game with four defensive linemen, and 10 plays in, we're down to three for the whole game. We finished the game with an outside linebacker playing defensive line."
It was that kind of night. The Packers' defense, shorthanded in Week 7 by season-ending injuries to two starters and injuries to several others who were out (including defensive backs Al Harris and Atari Bigby, who practiced all week but remain on the physically unable to perform list), got another dose of bad news just before the game. Defensive end Cullen Jenkins strained his calf in pregame and would not play.
A couple series into the game, fellow defensive end Ryan Pickett re-injured his ankle, leaving the Packers depleted against one of the best running backs in the league.
And, oh yeah, there was the hype surrounding 41-year-old Brett Favre returning to Lambeau Field for what he said would be his last game here. Packers fans and Packers players alike remember the seven-touchdown, zero-interception performance he laid on them in two games a season ago in which the Packers failed to sack their ex-quarterback and barely touched him.
This night, however, would be different. In a reversal of fortune, the Packers would get six quarterback hits on Favre, one sack and three huge interceptions that turned the game in the second half. Desmond Bishop's 32-yard interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter, set up by a hit on Favre from rookie C.J. Wilson, put the Packers up 28-17 at the 7:45 mark.
"That's what happens when you get pressure, especially on Favre," said Bishop, who recorded his first career touchdown. "I think he always feels like he thinks he can always make the play and a lot of times he does. He's going to go down in history making some of those plays. But you win some and lose some."
While Favre shredded the Packers in two wins a year ago, he came apart in classic Favre style in this one. An A.J. Hawk interception early in the third set up the go-ahead touchdown, and with the Vikings on the verge of taking the lead early in the fourth, safety Nick Collins made a brilliant interception when he jumped over the top of Percy Harvin to pick off a Favre laser over the middle. It stopped the Vikings at the Packers' 35-yard line.
But for as much a part as the interceptions played in the turnaround in the game and to the satisfaction of the fans, the game ultimately came down to one, final dramatic drive. The gimpy old Favre against the much younger but outmanned Packers' defense.
For a while, it looked like Favre would get the last laugh. He drove the Vikings into position on the strength of two fourth-down conversions, eventually getting them to the Packers' 15-yard line with 1:03 remaining. He nearly pulled off a miracle — after two Vikings penalties put their offense in a first-and-30 situation — when he hit Harvin in the back of the end zone for a touchdown with less than 1 minute to go. But replays clearly showed that Harvin had come down out of bounds on the end line, thus the Packers had life after an officials review.
"We were still confident," said Nick Collins of the defense on the final drive, "but there were some plays where it was like, ‘Oh, man, come on. Somebody make a play.' At the end of the day, we rose up to the occasion."
Especially on the last two plays. Faced with a third-and-15 and fourth-and-15, Favre desperately tried to make a play, only to misfire to the dangerous Randy Moss twice, when, unlike he had done all game, Capers chose to send just three rushers at Favre and play coverage on the game's deciding plays.
"When you've got receivers like Harvin and Moss, you don't want to lock people up one-on-one with them," said Capers. "So, we were trying to play over and under on them where we had a guy out there (Bishop) collisioning Moss so he couldn't get a free release and playing somebody over the top of him."
Like he did a season ago, Capers, 0-8 vs. Favre as a head coach or defensive coordinator before Sunday night, shied away from getting blitz happy. He sent an extra pass rusher on just eight of Favre's 30 dropbacks (not counting two plays the Packers used their "Psycho" personnel). Instead, he relied on outside linebackers and little-known defensive ends Jarius Wynn (one sack) and Wilson to provide the pass rush.
"I can't say enough of our three young defensive linemen," said McCarthy. "They played huge today."
Even offensive tackle T.J. Lang took a handful of snaps along the defensive line to help in short-yardage situations. Rookie outside linebacker Frank Zombo was playing out of position, too, on the Vikings' final drive, prompting Capers to mix up his calls when the game was on the line.
"You have to understand who we had available," said Capers. "We ended up with Zombo playing defensive end for us. We played most of the game with three down linemen. B.J. Raji might have been in there every play (of 66 total) except two or three plays. Guys just wore out at the end so we had to stick Zombo out there at defensive end."
Still, they had enough for one last stop. As the Vikings' final drive ended scoreless at 16 draining plays, with Favre and the Packers' defense gassed, the Packers refused to give in.
"Everyone was tired," said Raji. "But we wanted to win more than any anxiety or tiredness we had. It was a huge win."
Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave publisher Bill Huber a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum.
Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org