There is a mystique about Lambeau Field, especially in December. It's no fluke that Brett Favre is 30-0 in home games with a game-time temperature of 34 degrees or less. Somehow, some way, the Packers always find a way to win.
They did so Sunday, despite a spirited defensive effort from the Vikings and a running game that exposed the Packers once again as vulnerable. But, trailing in the final 10 minutes, the Packers put up 14 points for a 24-13 win — leaving the Vikings on the losing end of a game in which they controlled the tempo throughout.
The Vikings took the opening kickoff and drove almost the length of the field without a single pass, as the game plan was clearly to run the ball and not force third-string quarterback Spergon Wynn, making his first start as a Viking, to try to win the game through the air.
Minnesota began on its own 29-yard line, where Michael Bennett opened the drive with a 4-yard run. That was followed by a 9-yard run by Jim Kleinsasser, runs of 6 and 3 yards by Bennett and a 6-yard run by Travis Prentice to get the ball into Packers territory. From there it was Bennett for 8 yards and Doug Chapman for two carries for 4 yards. After runs of 6 and 5 yards by Bennett got the ball to the 20-yard line, the offense self-destructed.
Kleinsasser was brought down for a gain of just 1 yard, and, when Wynn ran an option toss to Chapman — the 12th straight run of the drive — the pitch was fumbled. Chapman recovered, but it was for a 2-yard loss. Wynn's first pass fell incomplete, but the Vikings still had a chance for points — until Gary Anderson pushed a 39-yard field goal wide right to keep the game scoreless with 6:49 to play in the first quarter.
The next several minutes were dominated by the wind and cold. In his first two drives, the only first down Brett Favre got was on a 5-yard pass interference call on Dale Carter, forcing punts often.
As for the Vikings, Wynn's next three pass attempts were incomplete. In a battle of field position, the Vikings were losing the war and started their first drive of the second quarter on their own 7-yard line.
The Vikings got the ball moving with an 11-yard run by Bennett and a 14-yard scramble by Wynn, but a sack ended that drive and again gave the Packers great field position. With the Vikings stuffing Ahman Green at every turn — he had just 7 yards on his first five carries, the Vikings forced another Packers punt — and this time would take advantage.
Starting from the 31-yard line, Bennett took a sweep 23 yards that had 15 more tacked on because of a facemask call on Tyrone Williams to move the ball to the Packers 31. While the Vikings were able to do little more than that one play, it had them close enough for Gary Anderson to hit a 44-yard field goal and give them a 3-0 lead with 8:16 to play in the half.
The Packers responded immediately, with a little help from penalties. Following runs of 4 and 3 yards by Green, the Vikes looked to have the Packers stopped when Favre was hit by Talance Sawyer and fumbled. Instead, a holding call on Eric Kelly kept the drive alive. On the next play, William Henderson caught a pass over the middle, was hit by Robert Griffith and fumbled, but a phantom offside call on Lemanski Hall, who wasn't offside according to replays, kept the Pack with the ball.
Favre took advantage, completing a 9-yard pass to Corey Bradford and an 8-yard pass to Dorsey Levens before giving the ball on a reverse to Donald Driver. Favre turned into a blocker and cleared the way for Driver for a 31-yard touchdown to give the Packers a 7-3 lead with 3:18 to play in the half.
Neither team got close before halftime, but with 2 minutes to play Wynn finally completed his first pass, sending the teams to halftime with the Packers ahead by four points.
The second half started much like the first half. The Packers couldn't sustain the opening drive but pinned the Vikings at their own 7-yard line. Bennett used his helmet to get the Vikings moving. A 1-yard run had 5 more tacked on for a facemask, and, after a 13-yard run, Bennett had another 1-yard run that had 15 added to it for a personal-foul facemask to move the Vikings out to the 42. The drive would stall, but it would give the Vikings the field goal-position advantage.
The Packers were buried on their own 4-yard line and went three-and-out. Although Minnesota did nothing with the ball offensively, the wind-shortened punt left the Vikings in position for Anderson to notch a 42-yard field goal to cut the Packers lead to 7-6 with 5:06 left in the third.
Green Bay again went three-and-out, and the Vikings had a chance to take control of the game, but Wynn was intercepted deep in Vikings territory by Bernardo Harris, giving the Packers the ball on the Vikings 26.
Favre was unable to get the Packers into the end zone, but completions of 17 yards to Antonio Freeman, 5 yards to Henderson and 4 yards to Green left the Packers just inches short of a first down on the 7-yard line. With the crowd and Favre wanting to go for the first down, Green Bay settled for a 24-yard field goal by Ryan Longwell to take a 10-6 lead with 11:57 to play in the game.
The rationale for going for the field goal was quite simple — the Vikings hadn't scored a touchdown all day and the field goal gave the Packers a four-point lead and set them up to keep the Vikings from putting a big play together to keep the lead. That wish wouldn't come true.
After a short kick and nice return set the Vikings up at their own 41, Wynn threw an 11-yard pass to Carter for a first down and, two plays later, threw a bomb over the middle to Byron Chamberlain. Safety Darren Sharper went for the ball, Chamberlain made the catch and was alone in the secondary, running the remaining 15 yards for a 47-yard touchdown to give the Vikings a 13-10 lead with 10:03 to play.
It was time for the defense to come up with one final stand to keep Favre from remaining perfect in cold home weather.
Starting from his own 21, Favre came out passing. He started with a 12-yard pass to Bill Schroeder. That was followed by a 7-yard pass to Freeman. Then a 13-yard pass to Schroeder. Then a 20-yard pass to Freeman. Suddenly, the Packers were at the Vikings 27 and the crowd, which had been stunned just minutes earlier, was going crazy. After a 3-yard run by Green, Favre found Bubba Franks over the middle for 20 yards to the Vikings 4-yard line. From there, Green took a handoff and galloped untouched for a 4-yard touchdown. Just that quickly the Packers had the lead back at 17-13 with 6:28 to play.
With the Vikings again needing a touchdown drive, the Packers brought the heat on Wynn and got the desired result. Faced with a third-and-6, Wynn tried to force a pass to Carter, but cornerback Mike McKenzie stepped in front of him and intercepted the pass, running it back 38 yards for a touchdown, and the Packers lead was 24-13 with 5:25 to play.
Green Bay was content to let the Vikings pick away for small gains with time on the Packers' side, and Wynn took advantage. Forced to throw underneath passes, Wynn converted three straight third-down plays on passes of 7 yards to Bennett, 7 yards to Moss and 15 yards to Chamberlain. When the Vikings picked up two more first downs on an 11-yard scramble by Wynn and an 11-yard reverse to Moss, the Vikings were at the 3-yard line with less than 2 minutes to go, looking for a miracle finish.
It wouldn't happen. Wynn threw three incompletions and the Vikings turned the ball over on downs, allowing Favre to kneel on the ball to kill the final minute off the clock and let the Packers escape with a 24-13 win.
If any game has typified the Vikings season, this one did. With a third-string QB, a rookie running back, a makeshift offensive line and injuries all over the defense, the Vikings did what they wanted to do. They stymied Ahman Green all day, kept Favre in check for 50 minutes and took Antonio Freeman away from the offense. Yet, in the end, like nine of the previous 14 games, all that mattered was the final score — a Packers win and a Vikings loss. VU
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