Few numbers are more important to the outcome of a game than converting third downs on offense and stopping them on defense. After battling back into their game with the Packers Sunday, the Vikings had several chances in the final quarter to make that big stop. They didn't, and third downs became the turning point of the game.
The Vikings had dominated the third quarter, holding the ball for 11:14 of the first 12:32 of the second half to pull into a 20-20 tie. The team needed the defense to make one stand to stop the Packers and give the offense a chance to win. The opportunities were there, but the Packers made the plays instead of the Vikings.
After tying the game 20-20, Brett Favre faced two third downs on the next drive. The first was third-and-a-long-yard from his own 36. He used the Vikings' pursuit to allow fullback William Henderson to clear wide open and flipped him a screen pass that gained 10 yards. The next third-down play was a third-and-11 from the 12-yard line. Favre bought time in the pocket and delivered a 12-yard TD strike to Javon Walker to give the Packers a 27-20 lead with 13:14 to play.
After the next Vikings drive stalled, the defense was placed in "must-stop" mode as Favre looked to continue to move the ball and eat the clock. Once again, the Packers got the best of this critical statistic.
Starting from his own 20, Favre faced a pair of third downs to start the drive. The first was converted on an 18-yard slant pass to Walker. The second was converted on a 9-yard sweep by Ahman Green that looked at first to be strung out for a loss. By the time Favre faced his next third down of the drive, the Packers were trying to take time off the clock and forced the Vikings into a time out before kicking a field goal to take a 30-20 lead.
Four times in the fourth quarter the Packers were faced with a third down that could have changed the game if not converted. The Packers made good on all of them, scoring 10 points in the process and taking just enough control of the game to win.
Turning Point: Third-Down Letdown
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