Rayner shines, so does defense in 9-7 win

Kicker Dave Rayner's 44-yard field with less than two minutes remaining, combined with a steller performance by the Green Bay Packers defense was enough to overcome three turnovers and a number of other miscues for a 9-7 victory over the Minnesota Vikings before 70,864 fans on a rainy evening at Lambeau Field on Thursday night.

Brett Favre, in what may be his final home game of his Hall of Fame career, engineered Green Bay's sluggish offense to his 36th fourth quarter comeback victory, as the Packers (7-8) won their third straight game and took over sole possession of second place in the NFC North Division.

Packers defensive end Aaron Kampman, voted to the Pro Bowl earlier this week, had three sacks to spearhead a defensive performance that limited the Vikings to just 103 total yards for the game. The Vikings (6-9) had 77 yards rushing and just 27 yards passing.

The Packers forced the Vikings to punt 10 times, and ended the game when rookie quarterback Tarvaris Jackson's pass that sailed over the head of wide receiver Billy McMullen on fourth down with 30 seconds remaining.

Vikings cornerback Fred Smoot made the most out of his first interception of the season, returning an errant pass by Favre 47 yards for a touchdown that gave the Vikings a 7-6 lead with 5:10 left in the third quarter. Favre threw toward the left sideline in the vicinity of wide receiver Greg Jennings, who was not looking for the pass.

As the Packers defense continued to force the Vikings to punt the ball away, Green Bay's offense continued to give the ball right back to the Vikings.

Tight end Bubba Franks was headed toward his first touchdown of the season, but the Vikings jarred the ball loose and recovered on their own 3 with 8:28 left. It was Franks' second fumble of the game and Green Bay's third turnover.

Still, the Packers defense forced the Vikings to punt, allowing the Packers' sputtering offense to give it one last try to take a lead. Favre, who sniffed out a Vikings' blitz and called an audible, hit wide receiver Ruvell Martin with a 36-yard pass to the Vikings' 27. Yet the Packers' offense continued to shoot itself in the foot. Franks was penalized for holding, which put a huge dent in a 31-yard catch-and-run pass from Favre to running back Ahman Green to the 4.

But Rayner, who made three of five of his field goal attempts in the game, stepped up and drilled his first game-winning field goal of his career through the uprights.

"I'm not going to lie, it was a big kick," said Rayner, who slipped and fell on one of his attempts and hit the upright on another attempt. "I knew that going into it, and it worked out well. I was so excited and happy.

"When I kicked it, I knew it was good, but I had to make that kick. My job might have been riding on that kick. Missing the two in the first half in such a big game. It was just fundamentals and doing what I did on most of the kicks."

The win allowed the Packers to sweep the Vikings, who swept the Packers last season.

Afterward there was no indication by any of Favre's teammates that it might have been his last game at Lambeau Field. The Packers finish their season Dec. 31 at Chicago, and still have a chance at sneaking into the playoffs.

"I don't know," said Packers wide receiver Donald Driver. "It's going to be hard to say. I'm going to wait and see until after next week and how he takes that one, after we win and get in the playoffs. I'm hoping he comes back. Right now. I'm hoping he comes back. We'll all have to wait."

The Packers, held to 46 yards rushing, attacked the Vikings through the air from the get-go. Favre completed 26 of a whopping 50 attempts with no touchdowns and two interceptions for a 52.5 passer rating.

Driver led the Packers with nine catches for 99 yards. Franks had five catches for 43 yards.

Jackson, the Vikings' second-round draft pick making his first start as a pro, completed 10 of 20 passes for just 50 yards (35.4 passer rating).

"We felt we could beat them high on our left side, but we didn't want to do that all the time," said Kampman. "We wanted to restrict the lanes. … We compressed everything. The tackles did a great job pushing and as we call it, ‘keep him in the well.'"

Jackson, who has a strong arm and is a good runner, scrambled five times for 23 yards. Chester Taylor led the Vikings in rushing with 49 yards on 15 carries.

Green Bay's defense forced the Vikings to punt on all six of their first half possessions, including five three-and-outs. The Vikings, held to 38 total yards in the first half, committed seven penalties in the process and gave the Packers every chance to take a big lead, but Green Bay only came away with a 6-0 halftime advantage on Rayner's two field goals.

Rayner made two of four field goal attempts, including a 44 yarder as time expired in the second quarter.

Rayner's 38-yard field goal gave the Packers a 3-0 lead with 9:09 left in the first quarter. Ahman Green's 13-yard run gave Green Bay a first down at the Vikings' 8, but Favre was sacked for a 12-yard loss by linebacker Ben Leber. Favre threw incomplete twice and the Packers had to settle for a field goal attempt.

In between the two made field goals, the Packers did little to help themselves. Green Bay's receivers dropped at least five very catchable passes thrown by Favre. Linebacker A.J. Hawk also dropped a pass thrown by Jackson that he could have easily returned for a touchdown, and cornerback Jarrett Bush, in an attempt to catch a punt from Jon Ryan, was unable to catch the ball at the 8 yard line and the ball skipped into the end zone for a touchback.

Rayner attempted his second field goal of the night from 38 yards on Green Bay's second drive of the game, but slipped and fell to the turf as he tried to kick the ball. He said afterward that he switched to longer cleats, which helped him with his footing the rest of the game.

Rayner was able to keep his balance on his third attempt from 34 yards, but the ball hit the left upright and was no good.


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