The Vikings found themselves in dangerous territory this last month of the NFL season — in danger of losing a game that could bury them in the NFC Central and put them on the deep list of also-rans in the NFC.
When the Vikings played Tampa Bay, it was a must-win game. The same held true for the Detroit game. With a key game with Green Bay Sunday, the Vikings were again backed up against a wall and needing a win. For the third time, the team responded, beating Green Bay 35-13 in a game they had to have and moving right back into the thick of the NFC Central playoff chase.
"I think this team plays better when it's a little scared," Cris Carter told VU. "Division games always bring out some extra emotion and it was there today. We finally got some balance on offense and got a great job from everyone — offense, defense and special teams — and that made the big difference."
Early on, it looked like the Vikings would continue their trend of shooting themselves in the foot. Minnesota took the opening kickoff and went three-and-out, giving the ball to Brett Favre at midfield. He responded with a couple of passes to Antonio Freeman, but when the Vikings came with a blitz, Favre threw a pass away and the Packers had to settle for a field goal. However, Ryan Longwell pushed a 51-yard field goal attempt wide right to keep the game scoreless.
The Vikes again went three-and-out as Culpepper fumbled a snap that ended the drive before it had a chance to begin, which helped create the game's first big break. After the Packers went three-and-out, a punt to Troy Walters was fumbled when he was hit by Chris Akins, with Green Bay recovering on the Vikings 16-yard line.
The Packers looked poised to take the early lead, but the Vikings defense stood tall. Ahman Green was brought down for a 6-yard loss on the first play and, after passes of 8 yards to Green and 7 yards to Corey Bradford, Green Bay was faced with a fourth-and-1 from the 7-yard line. The Packers opted to go for the first down, but Green was stuffed for a 4-yard loss by Fred Robbins.
"That was a huge play, but we had a lot of huge plays today," linebacker Kailee Wong told VU. "We want our defense to be as good as our offense and to do that we need to make big plays. That was the start of a bunch of big plays we got from the defense."
The Vikings looked to take advantage of the momentum and got the chains moving with an 11-yard scramble by Culpepper and a 2-yard plunge by Jim Kleinsasser after an 8-yard pass to Randy Moss. When Doug Chapman broke off a 19-yard run, the Vikings were in Packers territory and looking for the big play. Instead, the offense would self-destruct, as Culpepper would run into Everett Lindsay and fumble with the Packers recovering as the first quarter ended.
The Packers again had a chance to take control of the game. Favre completed passes of 14 yards to Donald Driver and 7 yards to Bubba Franks, but, when William Henderson was stopped short on a third-and-inches play, the Packers opted for a field goal instead of going for the first down. Longwell let them down again — pushing the attempt wide left to keep the game scoreless.
As LeRoy Butler was being carted off the field, the Packers defense changed — and it changed for the worse. Akins was now at Butler's safety spot and the Vikings went after him. After converting a pair of first downs on runs of 4 and 10 yards by Chapman, Culpepper got Akins to bite on a play fake and threw a perfect strike to Carter for a 43-yard touchdown and a 7-0 Vikings lead with 8:18 to play in the first half.
"That was a perfect read by Daunte," Carter told VU. "He got the safety to buy the fake and threw the ball right where it had to be. That was how you write up a play — to have it work that way."
The momentum built on that play carried over as, one play later, Favre was forced to try to bring the Packers back in a hurry. Instead, he didn't see Wong dropping into coverage and threw a pass right to him, which he caught on the move and raced back 27 yards for a touchdown to increase the Vikings lead to 14-0 with 7:00 left in the first half.
The lead became a borderline blowout in the final minutes of the half. After a bad snap was covered by Favre for an 18-yard loss, the Packers had to punt and the Vikings needed just one first down to get in scoring position. It came on a 10-yard pass to Randy Moss, and Gary Anderson converted a 43-yard field goal to give Minnesota a 17-0 lead. Then, after again stuffing Favre, the Vikings ran their 2-minute offense, which benefited from a 12-yard pass to Byron Chamberlain, a 15-yard run by Harold Morrow and a 34-yard scramble by Culpepper to the Packers 18, setting up a 36-yard field goal by Anderson to send the Vikings to the locker room with a 20-0 lead.
With the Packers reeling, Ahman Green made the big play to open up the second half. After taking over on the Vikings 27, Green, who had been held to 4 yards on 8 carries in the first half, broke off a 61-yard run to put Green Bay in the red zone. From there, Favre converted a first down with a 3-yard flip to Green and, two plays later, found Franks wide open for a touchdown to cut the Vikings' lead to 20-7 with 10:20 remaining in the third quarter.
The Vikings needed a response, and the offense provided enough to keep field position in their favor. Culpepper got one first down on a pass interference call on Tyrone Williams and another on a 17-yard pass to Moss, but, even though the drive stalled, the Packers were pushed back to their own 20.
With the defense needing a stand, it came up — forcing a three-and-out and changing the complexion of the game. With the Vikings being threatened with losing a big lead like they did against Detroit, they buried the Packers the old-fashioned way — they shoved the ball down their throats.
Starting from the 37, Culpepper completed a 10-yard pass to Chamberlain that appeared to come up short of the first down, but his extra effort got him the needed yardage and moved the sticks. One play later, Culpepper threw a 15-yard strike to Moss for another first down on the Packers 32. After runs by Chapman of 6 and 3 yards, Culpepper called a sneak for a yard and another first down. Two plays later, Culpepper called his own number again on a quarterback draw — weaving his way through traffic for 14 yards and a TD to give the Vikings a 28-7 lead with 14:07 to play in the game following a 2-point conversion pass to Jake Reed.
The Packers were in desperation mode and the Vikings took full advantage, attacking Favre and forcing incompletions that forced a punt with 12:21 to play. What followed was the quintessential new-look Vikings drive.
Starting from the 27, Chapman took carries of 4 and 3 yards before Culpepper converted a first down with a 6-yard pass to Moss. After being backed up by a holding call, Kleinsasser took a toss for 11 yards and Culpepper moved the chains with a 14-yard pass to Reed. The Vikes continued to mix it up, as Carter took a 4-yard pass, Chapman got a first down with a 7-yard run and Culpepper took a sweep 13 more yards to the Green Bay 16-yard line. The Packers' last stand fell short, as Culpepper hit Moss for 9 yards on a third-and-7 and Kleinsasser did the rest, plowing in from 2 yards out for a touchdown to give the Vikings a 35-7 lead with 2:47 to play.
The Packers scored a meaningless touchdown to end the game, as Favre drove the team 69 yards, culminating with a 3-yard TD to Charles Lee with 45 seconds to play, but, by then, the damage had been done and the Vikings walked out of Metrodome even at 3-3 with a convincing 35-13 win.
"This was a game we needed and one that we can take a lot of pride in," Chris Hovan told VU. "We want our defense to come up big and this was a statement that we made today that we're not done. We're back in this and have to keep on going from here." VU
Must-Win Streak Continues
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