Report card vs. Vikings

Rushing offense fails against Minnesota

The bad continues to outweigh the good for quarterback Brett Favre. His two brilliant touchdown strikes to Donald Driver in the first half were offset by two costly interceptions, bumping his league-leading total to 17. Rookie cornerback Dovonte Edwards' astute read and break in front of Andrae Thurman on a comeback route and resulting 51-yard return for a touchdown illustrated the lingering breakdowns Favre has had with his makeshift receiving corps, save for Driver. When the Packers were forced to throw the football in the second half because of a nonexistent running game, Favre couldn't deliver. He completed only six of 15 passes for 47 yards, in part because lone threat Driver was drawing double and even triple coverage. The passing game also was unusually feeble on third down, converting only two of 10 opportunities.

Samkon Gado, who? The unheralded rookie may have used up his 15 minutes of fame in the attention-grabbing starting debut the previous week at Atlanta, when he rushed for 103 yards and scored three touchdowns. Teammates propelled him to instant stardom in that game by recovering two of his fumbles.

On Monday, Gado put the ball on the ground again, and, although a teammate again came to his aid to thwart a turnover, the apparent one-game wonder was promptly banished to the bench early in the third quarter. Gado's gory stat line - 10 carries, 7 yards. Six of those yards came on Gado's first carry!

In Gado's defense, the Packers offensive line had none for Minnesota's porous rush defense. In particular, young guards Will Whitticker and Scott Wells were manhandled and driven back by Vikings tackles Kevin Williams and Pat Williams. The end result was a season-low 21 yards in just 14 carries. In the two meetings this season with the Vikings, the Packers picked up a grand total of 66 yards via the run.

As has been the case just about every game this season, one egregious lapse in coverage ruins an otherwise solid game by the pass defense and is at the heart of another loss. Jason Horton, replacing an injured Mike Hawkins as the nickel back, inexplicably let Koren Robinson run past him on a go route in single-man coverage. Brad Johnson hits an open Robinson for 35 yards, Vikings move into field-goal range, and they walk away winners one more time on a Paul Edinger field goal as time expires.

Horton earlier committed a pass-interference penalty defending Robinson in the end zone, setting up a score-tying touchdown on a long drive in the third quarter that roused the Vikings offense. Up to then, an active defensive line sacked the immobile Johnson five times and forced him into two turnovers, including an interception by rookie safety Nick Collins.

While Horton's coverage gaffe in the final minute was the death knell for the Packers, running back Mewelde Moore was the unstoppable catalyst in the Vikings' second-half comeback. Moore had an innocuous 32 yards in nine carries in the first half, then busted loose with frequency to finish with 122 yards in 22 carries, a robust average of 5.5 yards a crack. Moore exploited the overpursuit of linebackers to the inside and deftly bounced his runs to the outside. The out-of-position Packers allowed Moore to juke his way to a staggering 68 yards in nine fourth-quarter carries - and that's not counting a 25-yard gain wiped out by a holding penalty. The Vikings racked up 160 yards on the ground, 50 more than the Packers' highly rated season average.

Well, at least the Packers didn't let the Vikings duplicate their historic feat from the previous week of having interception, kickoff and punt returns for touchdowns. Moore wasn't much of a factor on punt returns, generating 18 of his aggregate 40 yards on one of his five runbacks. Robinson, likewise, was held in check by a kickoff-coverage unit spearheaded by rookie Marviel Underwood, ripping off just one substantial gain (33 yards) in his three returns. On the downside, though, punter B.J. Sander had one of his poorest performances of a generally respectable season, averaging 36.3 yards (season-worst 30.6 net) in seven kicks. The return facets had little to offer, with running back ReShard Lee displaced on kickoffs in the second half by receiver Andrae Thurman.

Head coach Mike Sherman said defiantly after the Packers' fifth loss of three points or less this season that there's still "plenty to play for" in the remaining six weeks. Perhaps he's referring to trying to preserve his employment with the NFL's most successful franchise, which, at 2-8, is on the brink of its first losing season since 1991, the year prior to Favre's arrival. The Packers hadn't been swept by the Vikings in the regular season since 1998, and both last-second losses this year shouldn't have occurred. In years past, the players expertly practiced what their coach preached about not letting their guard down all four quarters. The message is getting lost in translation this season.

Monday's meltdown the last quarter and a half was yet another example of the bottom invariably falling out when the game is on the line. Not unlike what triggered the collapse from a 17-0 halftime lead at Minnesota last month, the Vikings' Mike Tice made the right adjustments and outcoached Sherman in the second half. Tice's changes on the offensive line in midstream paved the way for Moore to make a profound difference running the football. Conversely, Sherman all but gave up on the run by the third quarter in a tight game because the young guards he's counting on were a huge liability.

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