No Control From Get-Go

MINNEAPOLIS – When opportunity knocks in the NFL, a team has to seize it, or be seized. The Green Bay Packers had a number of opportunites to grab an early stranglehold on the Minnesota Vikings, and the NFC's Central Division, but failed to capitalize. Instead, the Vikings took what was offered and once again gobbled up the Packers in the Metrodome on Sunday.

Daunte Culpepper and Cris Carter ignited the Vikings early and fullback Jim Kleinsasser pounded home an exclamation point late as the Vikings rocked the Packers 35-13. The Packers lost for the eighth time in the past 10 games at the Metrodome. Green Bay swept the Vikings last year, including a 33-28 win at the Metrodome.

In two games vs. Minnesota last year, Packers quarterback Brett Favre had five touchdowns and no interceptions for 102.6 passer rating. Sunday, he was held to 169 yards passing with two touchdowns, one very costly interception, and a passer rating of 79.3.

The Vikings threw everything they had at Favre and dodged the consequences. "He wasn't comfortable," said Vikings defensive end Lance Johnstone. "I think we were able to get a lot of pressure on him, get a couple of hits and make him throw to a spot where he didn't have time to read, so he had to just get rid of the ball a lot and he made some bad decisions."

In a showdown between the league's No. 2 and No. 3 offenses, the Packers misfired while the Vikings poked holes in Green Bay's No. 3 ranked defense. The Vikings finished with 377 total yards of offense to Green Bay's 234. Green Bay had trouble stopping Culpepper in the air and on the ground. The 260-pound quarterback passed for 184 yards, completing 18 of 27, and one touchdown with no interceptions. He also rushed for 71 yards on nine carries, including a 14-yard scamper early in the fourth quarter that gave the Vikings a 28-7 lead.

Second-year running back Doug Chapman, filling in for the injured Michael Bennett, had a career day with a game-high 90 yards rushing on 22 attempts (4.1 avg.).

The Packers, on the other hand, played their worst game of the season. Favre, after throwing for 337 yards in a 31-23 win over Baltimore, had his poorest game since Green Bay's 14-10 loss to Tampa Bay when he finished with a passer rating of 54.2. Physically, the Packers lost safety LeRoy Butler midway through the second quarter when Butler suffered a chest contusion. They also played without starting wide receiver Bill Schroeder (spranied ankle).

Despite the absence of Butler and Schroeder, the Packers had opportunities early in the game and even in the third quarter to get back in it, but could never come up with a big play.

"You're never as good as you think you are and you're never as bad as you think you are," said Packers coach Mike Sherman. "Last week we beat Baltimore at home and everybody is telling us how good we are, and I proceeded to tell everybody that we haven't won anything just yet. Maybe we were feeling a little too good. ... I still believe we are a good football team. We have Tampa Bay coming to our place. This thing is very much wide open."

The Packers (4-2) head into their bye week trailing the Chicago Bears (4-1) by a half game for the lead in the Central Division. Green Bay returns to action Nov. 4 at Lambeau Field against the Buccaneers (2-4). With 10 games remaining in the regular season, the division is very much up for grabs. "I think it is going to be a dogfight in the Central Division all of the way, right through the 16 games," said Vikings coach Dennis Green, whose team improved to 3-3.

For the fourth straight game, the Packers found themselves trailing early on. While Green Bay came back to win in two of those games, they were snowballed by Minnesota's momentum after Culpepper threw a 43-yard touchdown pass to Cris Carter early in the second quarter to highlight a 68-yard drive. On the ensuing series, Favre threw incomplete to Dorsey Levens, then threw a pass intended for Bradford, but Wong played it perfectly, made a nice catch and returned it untouched to the end zone for his first-ever interception return for a score. It was the first interception return for a touchdown by a Vikings linebacker since Nov. 2, 1992 against Chicago.

"They showed a two-deep coverage and brought the safety down on the weak side. We ran a cross route in there and (Wong) made a great play on the ball and ran it in."

The Packers trailed 20-0 at halftime, but came out strong in the second half behind Ahman Green, who finished with 73 yards rushing on 11 carries (6.6 avg.). But he had just four yards on eight carries in the first half.

Green converted what would have been a four- or five-yard gain into a 61-yard run by breaking a couple of tackles before he was wrestled out of bounds by cornerback Kenny Wright. Green drew a 15-yard faskmask penalty in the process, but the Packers converted a key third down when Favre shoveled a pass to Levens for a first down at the 7. A few plays later, tight end Bubba Franks caught a two-yard touchdown pass from Favre, Franks' sixth touchdown catch of the season and it was 20-7.

Green Bay got the ball back after forcing the Vikings to punt for the first time since midway through the first quarter and had a chance to close to within a touchdown. But wide receiver Antonio Freeman dropped a long, but very catchable pass along the left sideline after beating cornerback Eric Kelly with a double move.

"It's kind of like the story of the day," Freeman said. "I wish I could have got my hands on it and let the referees decide whether it was inbounds or out. That was just the type of day it was. We struggled all day."

On the next play, third and 3, Favre threw again toward Freeman, but the ball slipped through Freeman's fingertips incomplete.

The Vikings got the ball back, drove 49 yards downfield, then scored on Culpepper's 14-yard run to make it 26-7. Culpepper's two-point conversion pass to Jake Reed practically sealed the win with 14:07 left in the game.

"They took advantage of the opportunities and we didn't," said Favre. "It's apparent that they wanted the ballgame more than we expected." Green Bay had three opportunities to score within the first 18 minutes of the game but came away with zero points. Ryan Longwell missed field goal attempts from 51 and 42 yards, and the Packers were stopped on a fourth-and-1 from the Vikings' 7-yard line. Chris Akins teeth-rattling hit on Vikings punt returner Troy Walters gave the Packers their best opportunity to take an early lead, but Minnesota's defense wouldn't budge.

Andre O'Neal recovered Walters' fumble at Minnesota's 16 with 8:12 left in the first quarter. The Packers went for it on fourth and one from the 7, but Green, who struggled early on, was thrown for a four-yard loss by nose tackle Fred Robbins.

"I fully expected us to make that with our offensive line and our backs," said Sherman. Instead, the Vikings built momentum with big plays and Packers' mistakes.

Minnesota took a 7-0 lead on wide receiver Cris Carter's 43-yard bomb from Culpepper. The Metrodome crowd of 64,165 erupted when linebacker Kailee Wong intercepted a pass from Favre and returned it 27 yards for a touchdown, his first ever, as Minnesota quickly went up 14-0.

After Wong scored, the Packers were forced to punt after three downs when center Mike Flanagan snapped wide left of Favre. The ball rolled back to the Packers' 7 yard line before Favre smothered it.

The Vikings cashed in by driving 22 yards on the ensuing drive and took a 17-0 lead on kicker Gary Anderson's 42-yard field goal. Anderson tacked on three more points by making a 42-yard field goal with 3:31 left in the second quarter. Culpepper's 34-yard run on a keeper to the Packers' 8 set up Anderson's 36-yard field goal to give Minnesota a 20-0 halftime lead. Charles Lee's 3-yard touchdown catch, his first-ever catch as a pro, with 45 seconds left in the game cut the lead to 35-13.


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