Packers survive second quarter

The Christmas Eve showdown for the NFC North championship was decided on the final snap of the game. That the Packers were able to beat the Minnesota Vikings, however, was due in large part to their ability to survive a staggering series of Vikings haymakers in the second quarter.

Minnesota's offense was on the field for all of four plays in the entire quarter. Those four plays were turned into three Daunte Culpepper touchdown pases — all in a row — and 21 points. The Packers survived the Vikings' best shots, however, and entered halftime trailing only 21-17.

The game was surprisingly scoreless between these two offensive juggernauts after the first quarter, but the Vikings drew first blood on the second play of the second quarter when Culpepper rolled right and hit Randy Moss for a 12-yard touchdown.

The Packers were able to answer with a tedious 16-play, 73-yard drive to climb back to a 7-all tie. Brett Favre moved the chains on three third-down passes, with completions to Donald Driver, Antonio Chatman and William Henderson. On another third down, this time third-and-goal from the Vikings' 9, Favre hit Driver just short of the goal line. An instant-replay review failed to show Driver scored a touchdown, but Ahman Green slipped a Kevin Williams tackle attempt in the backfield and backed his way into the end zone on a gutsy fourth-down decision.

The Packers were balanced, passing the ball nine times and running it seven times, a far cry from the pass-happy inbalance of a week ago.

All of that great work, however, was wiped away by one bolt of Vikings lightning. On the first play of the drive, Culpepper hit Nate Burleson for what should have been a 10-yard gain. Instead, Burleson slipped an Ahmad Carroll tackle, darted between the diving tackle attempts of Darren Sharper and Mark Roman, and beat Al Harris to the end zone to put the Vikings right back in front.

If the Vikings were scoring like a hare, the Packers were a supercharged tortoise by responding with a nine-play, 74-yard touchdown drive. The drive was brilliant, with the Packers facing only one third down. Driver caught a second-and-9 laser from Favre for a 25-yard catch-and-run to the Vikings' 27. On second-and-8, Favre hit Tony Fisher for 9 yards and a first down. On second-and-6, tight end Bubba Franks broke clear on a post pattern for an easy 22-yard touchdown.

"As an offense, we said don't look at the scoreboard and just keep going out there and scoring points," Franks said.

That tied the game, but again, not for long.

Kelly Campbell returned the ensuing kickoff 55 yards up the left sideline to the Packers' 38. On the next play, Culpepper hit running back Michael Bennett on a screen. Bennett broke Nick Barnett's tackle attempt at the line of scrimmage and sprinted into the end zone on a horrible display by the Packers' defense. Safety Michael Hawthorne threw himself to the turf when faced with an oncoming Vikings lineman. Carroll, only a step behind Bennett, pulled up when confronted with another blocker. Joey Thomas made a feeble attempt at a tackle.

Just like that, the Vikings were ahead 21-14 with less than a minute to play in the half.

But Green Bay answered. Chatman, Green Bay's maligned kick returner, made the biggest play of his Packers career. When he spun out of a Brian Williams tackle, the entire left side of the field had opened up. Chatman ran the ball 59 yards all the way to Minnesota's 34-yard line.

With no timeouts, the Packers needed to be careful or lucky. They were lucky. On third-and-6 with 25 seconds left, Favre hit Driver on the numbers on the right side of the field. Driver struggled to break free but was dropped close to the first down. So close to the first down, in fact, that the officials did the Packers a huge favor by stopping the clock with 7 seconds left to bring in the chains.

Driver wound up inches short of the first down, but the measurement allowed the Packers to have their field-goal unit in position. Had Driver clearly picked up the first down, the Packers may have had time to spike the ball to stop the clock. Had Driver clearly fallen short of the first down, time likely would have expired because spiking the ball was not an option since it was fourth down.

With Vikings coach Mike Tice screaming a derivative of "brown sugar" at the officials, Ryan Longwell calmly kicked a 42-yard field goal as time expired.

"I didn't quite understand the logic behind giving them a timeout for measurement when the clock was running, they were out of timeouts," Tice said. "What were they measuring for? To go for a first down?"

With the kick, the Packers trailed just 21-17 at halftime even though the Vikings scored touchdowns on their final three plays of the second quarter.

Packer Report Top Stories