Packers edge Vikings, 34-31

The race is on.<p> Though the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings appear to be headed in different directions in the NFC North Division, it took until the final second Sunday to determine a winner in the heated rivalry.<p>

Ryan Longwell's game-winning 33-yard field goal as time expired lifted the Packers to a 34-31 victory over the Vikings before 70,671 at Lambeau Field. Green Bay's victory, its fourth straight to improve to 5-4, created a first-place tie in the division with the Vikings, who lost their third straight.

The Packers, fresh off of a bye week, jumped out to a 24-10 first-half lead on Longwell's 43-yard field goal as time expired in the second quarter. Brett Favre, staving off a sinus infection that bothered him throughout the week, threw his fourth touchdown pass of the game to fullback William Henderson early in the fourth quarter as the Packers took a 31-17 lead.

But the Vikings, behind Daunte Culpepper, the league's top passer, stormed back and tied the game at 31-31 on Culpepper's 17-yard touchdown pass to running back Moe Williams with 1 minute, 20 seconds remaining.

The Packers dodged a bullet on the ensuing kickoff when tight end Ben Steele recovered Robert Ferguson's fumble at the end of a 37-yard return, and the Packers began their game-winning drive on their own 46 yard line. Favre, who passed for 236 yards and finished with a brilliant 133.0 passer rating, completed a 35-yard pass to running back Tony Fisher that got the Packers to the Vikings' 29 with less than a minute remaining.

"I had a lot of confidence in ‘Fish', obviously," said Favre. "He made some great plays tonight."

Favre followed with an eight-yard pass to tight end Bubba Franks. Ahman Green, who rushed for a game high 145 yards on 21 carries, plowed six yards to the 15 to set up the game-winning field goal with 3 seconds left.

"Our guys, I thought, came into the game very focused. I thought they had tremendous intensity," said Packers coach and general manager Mike Sherman. "They really wanted to play well today. I'm just proud of the effort that they had. The character that they showed in adverse situations, even there at the end when we did get the ball, and to be able to bring it down the field the way we did. Favre makes a great throw. In practice we threw it on the other side every single time. In the game, he elected to go to Fisher. Fisher went up and grabbed it and what a key play that was."

Minnesota played without star receiver Randy Moss for the second straight game. Moss injured his hamstring on Oct. 24 against Tennessee and tried to play a week later against the New York Giants but aggravated the injury.

The Packers, at times, were able to pressure Culpepper, sacking him four times. But the elusive 6-foot-4, 264 pound quarterback was often too much for the Packers contain and finished the game with 363 yards passing for a 117.9 rating.

"Daunte is almost like a Brett Favre but not quite a Brett Favre," said nose tackle Grady Jackson. He has a great arm, but we got to him and had a lot of pressure on him."

Culpepper's main target against the Packers was wide receiver Nate Burleson, who had 11 catches for 141 yards and a touchdown. He also connected with tight end Jermaine Wiggins, who finished with 6 catches for 94 yards and a touchdown reception early in the first quarter.

"He just made so many plays with his feet and with his strength," said Sherman. "I thought we had pretty good coverage early. When you give him that much time, with the arm that he has and the accuracy that he displays, it makes it hard (to cover) downfield. ... Great players make plays that aren't always designed a certain way. When a play breaks down, he finds something, much like our quarterback."

The Vikings capitalized on Green Bay's only turnover of the game late in the third quarter when Culpepper threw an eight-yard touchdown pass to Burleson to close Minnesota to 24-17. Minnesota began the drive on its own 46 when wide receiver Donald Driver fumbled after a 14-yard gain on an end-around. Culpepper's 22-yard strike to Wiggins, who had his way against linebacker Hannibal Navies, set up the touchdown.

Though the Packers lost in the turnover margin for the second straight game, they still were able to win. Green Bay had four turnovers to the Washington Redskins' two on Oct. 31, but hung on for a 28-14 win thanks to Al Harris' game-saving interception late in the game. The Packers finished with three fumbles against the Vikings but were able to recover two. Besides Steele's fumble recovery near the end of the game, Fisher recovered his own fumble before scoring a touchdown after catching a 2-yard shovel pass from Favre early in the second quarter.

"I think we've lived dangerously in regard to turnovers," Sherman said. "We're fortunate to win ballgames with turnovers at this point. It's disheartening that our quarterback did a great job and made great decisions, but there's no way we should have fumbled the ball the way we did today."

Favre hooked up with Javon Walker for a 50-yard touchdown pass to highlight Green Bay's first series of the game. Walker scored his eighth touchdown of the season by out-leaping cornerback Brian Williams to catch the ball at the 10, then bulling his way into the end zone.

Minnesota answered with a 71-yard drive, capped by Culpepper's 13-yard pass to Wiggins.

Green Bay's defense held the Vikings to 71 yards rushing. Starting running back Michael Bennett finished with 21 yards on five carries.


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