Report card vs. Vikings

Pass defense gets an A-plus; offense gets low marks as struggles continue

Brett Favre had 33 pass attempts by halftime, the most he's ever had in the first two quarters, and was well on his way to shattering his franchise record of 61 for a game. He finished with 50 (completing 26 for 285 yards), marking only the Packers' third win in 11 games when he throws that many.

Aside from Pro Bowl-elect Donald Driver, who had nine catches for 99 yards, and Ruvell Martin's making a 36-yard grab on a go route during the late game-winning drive, the receivers continued to let Favre down. There were five drops in the first half, two by Greg Jennings. The struggling rookie also was at least partly to blame for Favre's two interceptions in the second half. Jennings didn't break off his route on the first one, allowing Fred Smoot a clean break for a 47-yard touchdown return. Favre tried to go right back to Jennings on the next offensive play, but Jennings let up in stride, and by the time he got going again on the sideline route, Darren Sharper was camped under Favre's deep throw. Tight end Bubba Franks, meanwhile, had probably his worst game in a forgettable season for the three-time Pro Bowler. He had two fumbles, the latter trying to fight to get across the goal line on a third-and-7 completion midway through the fourth quarter with the Packers down 7-6. Franks later nullified a big catch-and-run by Ahman Green to inside the Vikings' 5 with a holding penalty, but Franks was spared being the goat with the game-winning field goal kicked two plays later.

For the second time in as many meetings with the run-stuffing Vikings, Green Bay took a passive approach. Only eight of the team's 43 offensive plays in the first half were runs, all by Green. He turned a stretch play back inside for a 13-yard burst on his first opportunity but had only one other significant gain (8 yards) thereafter. Green finished with 18 carries for 42 yards, giving him but 97 yards against Minnesota in 2006.

The return of right tackle Mark Tauscher from a five-game absence didn't make an anticipated difference for the better. Vernand Morency, a speedy catalyst spelling Green in the previous two games, didn't get his first carry until late in the third quarter and had only four totes that amounted to 4 yards. The Packers totaled 46 yards, 1 less than their output at Minnesota in November.

Minnesota's wide receivers combined for four receptions and 18 yards, the same team-high receiving yardage gained by running back Chester Taylor.>

Cornerbacks Al Harris and Charles Woodson, two days after being passed over for the Pro Bowl, didn't have to work much down the field because the defensive front dazzled for the second straight game in heating up the pocket. Rookie quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, who was a lackluster 10-of-20 for 50 yards, was given a rude awakening by an active quartet of Aaron Kampman, Cullen Jenkins, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and Corey Williams. Kampman overwhelmed rookie right tackle Ryan Cook and had three sacks to regain the league lead with 15 1/2. A pressure by Gbaja-Biamila, who blew past left tackle Bryant McKinnie, hurried a Jackson throw over the middle that Woodson made interception No. 7 on the season.

The defense was disciplined in not allowing the athletic Jackson to scramble for big chunks of yards - he totaled only 23. Linebacker Brady Poppinga had an impressive takedown of Jackson on a third-and-2 keeper to the outside, stopping him a yard short of a first down. The secondary, though, escaped harm on two would-be huge pass plays. An open Troy Williamson had a drop of a downfield heave thrown slightly behind him in the first quarter. Then in the third quarter, an illegal-shift penalty wiped out a 42-yard strike from Jackson to Travis Taylor, who got behind Woodson and safety Marquand Manuel.

Free-agent acquisition Ryan Pickett has quietly gone about his business of being a steady, if not punishing force in the middle of the line. Pickett set the tone for a second straight bang-up job by the run defense with a stuff of Chester Taylor for no gain on the second play of the game. Pickett collected six tackles, taking a lead role in the Packers' limiting the explosive Taylor to 49 yards in 15 carries. Taylor still managed a couple sizable runs, including an 11-yarder on a dart of a cut into the middle.

Linebackers A.J. Hawk and Nick Barnett were quick to react and shed blockers in outside pursuit. The Vikings amassed only 77 yards on the ground.

Dave Rayner saved face for himself and the special-teams unit by connecting on the 44-yard field goal with 1:34 to play to decide the 9-7 victory. Until then, it was generally an utter mess on a slick field. Rayner's plant foot came out from underneath him, and a 38-yard attempt was blocked in the first quarter. A 34-yard try caromed off the left upright in the second quarter.

Jarrett Bush twice failed to down two punts inside the 10-yard line, resulting in touchbacks for Jon Ryan, who still had a respectable net average of 37.2 yards (gross of 45). Morency, meanwhile, opened the second half by dropping the kickoff and was tackled at the Green Bay 6. A 34-yard punt return by Woodson was erased by a blocking penalty on Jason Hunter. Woodson aggravated a shoulder injury on defense in the fourth quarter and had to give way to Jennings, who provided little in two punt returns.

Influenced by the rainy conditions at the start of the game, Mike McCarthy more than stuck to the game plan he had in place for the team's first matchup with the Vikings and was fortunate to escape with a second win because the pass-happy approach was harmful at times.

True, Minnesota is the league's best in stopping the run, but the 35-to-8 ratio of pass to run in the first half was astounding. McCarthy discounted the Vikings' pass rush and didn't employ the max protection nearly as much as he has for most of the season, which left blitzing linebacker Ben Leber free to get home for one sack of Favre and apply pressure a few other times.

Surprise, surprise, Bob Sanders' defensive unit saved the day again. He didn't blitz much, with respect to Jackson's mobility, but he had the linemen in position to hem in Jackson from both sides and keep him from taking off. The tackling on what few completions that were made was probably the surest it's been this season. It might turn out to be a little too late with regard to snaring a playoff berth, but the coaches have most of the players responding down the stretch.

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