After battling to a 42-42-1 series record, and with Green Bay at 4-4, Minnesota at 5-3 and the Packers favored by four points in Lambeau Field, about the only thing certain was that this border battle had a chance to be a very close game. It was, and for the second time in three years, the officials were a critical part of a Vikings loss at Lambeau Field.
Last, year, the Vikings used four interceptions and a strong performance from Randy Moss to beat the Packers in Green Bay in the season opener. Two years ago, the NFL admitted to more than a handful of officiating mistakes in Green Bay in a Vikings loss, and fines were handed out to six players for a late-game fracas. This year, with Moss out with a hamstring injury and no interceptions corralled, the Vikings were left hoping for some help from the officials and couldn't get that either.
Their own lack of creating winning plays was every bit as big as several rulings that went against the Vikings, but the whole cast of miscues led to a heart-wrenching 34-31 loss that came at the leg of Packers kicker Ryan Longwell, who booted a 33-yard field goal as time expired. The loss dropped the Vikings to 5-4, even with the Packers in the race for the NFC North title.
The Packers opened with an impressive drive, starting with a heavy dose of the running game and capped with an explosive passing play. After a 6-yard pass to Donald Driver, Ahman Green and Najeh Davenport rushed five straight times for 17 yards. But when the Packers needed to have a big third down play, wide receiver Javon Walker delivered. Quarterback Brett Favre unloaded a no-lose pass that, had it been intercepted would have been as good as a punt. Instead of an interception by Brian Williams, Walker pulled the ball away and scored on a 50-yard touchdown for a quick 7-0 Green Bay lead with 11:08 to play in the opening quarter.
For the first time this season, the Vikings scored a touchdown on their opening drive. The nine-play drive started with Michael Bennett's 11-yard run. Two plays later, after a hold by Bryant McKinnie backed up the offense 10 yards, Culpepper scrambled for time and found Marcus Robinson for 22 yards and a first down. The quarterback was equally as good on the next third down, as he sidestepped in the pocket and found Moe Williams on a checkdown for a 17-yard gain to the 22-yard line. Culpepper wisely held back on a busted screen play on the next snap and scrambled for 9 yards before finding Jermaine Wiggins down the right sideline for a 13-yard touchdown to tie the score at 7 with 6:25 to play in the first quarter.
After an exchange of punts, Green Bay was on the move again. This time, Favre went after safety Brian Russell, who was in single coverage on tight end David Martin. Russell didn't locate the ball and Martin came down with a 35-yard reception on the second play of the drive. After two 8-yard runs and a facemask penalty on Keith Newman, the Packers had the ball on the 7-yard line. Nick Luchey rushed for 3 yards and a first down, and the Packers were set up with first-and-goal on the 4-yard line. After a 2-yard run by Green, Tony Fisher took a shovel pass to the goal line, fumbled and then was ruled to have recovered his own fumble in the end zone for a touchdown and a 14-7 Green Bay lead with 14:09 to play in the half.
The Vikings answered with a field goal drive in which Culpepper again was adept at converting third downs without his star receiver, Randy Moss, on the field. Facing third-and-8, Culpepper hit Moe Williams with a 12-yard check-down pass before finding Wiggins for 20 yards on the next play. Up against third-and-1 from the 22-yard line, Culpepper handed off to Nate Burleson for a 10-yard run. But the drive stalled when Onterrio Smith was brought down for no gain on third-and-1 from the 3-yard line. Morten Andersen delivered a 21-yard field goal with 8:47 to play in the half to draw the Vikings within four points, 14-10.
From there, it was all Green Bay in the first half. Favre led the Packers to the end zone on three plays on the ensuing drive. Green started with a 35-yard run, followed by a 17-yard run. Bubba Franks capped the drive when he found an opening between the safeties for a 17-yard touchdown and a 21-10 Packers lead with 7:27 left in the half.
After a six-play drive, the Vikings punted back to the Packers, who got the ball with 4:32 left in the half. When Green went down with a leg injury on the first play of the drive, Fisher carried the load. He started with runs of 13 and 4 yards, and, three plays later, facing third-and-8 on the 37-yard line, Favre connected with Donald Driver on a 14-yard pass. That was followed with an 11-yard run by Fisher and a 9-yard pass to Fisher as the Packers moved into hurry-up mode and got the ball into field goal position as the half was winding away. They were successful in doing that, as Ryan Longwell capped a 14-play drive with a 43-yard field goal for a 24-10 lead as time expired.
The Vikings looked beaten down in the first half, and the Packers' opening drive seemed to show more of the same. They ran it straight at the Vikings and outside with toss sweeps, both giving them success. After his first-half leg injury, Green returned to run for 8 and 22 yards, and later for 10 more. And the Packers were assisted with a 10-yard pass to Walker and a questionable pass interference call on Antoine Winfield. But when the Vikings needed a stop, they shut down Fisher for 1 yard on third-and-2 and Luchey on fourth-and-1 for no gain.
Green Bay responded by shutting down Culpepper for a 1-yard scramble on third-and-2, but the Vikings countered again when Corey Chavous forced a fumble by Driver and defensive lineman Darrion Scott recovered.
The Vikings took advantage, and Wiggins was a big reason why. On second-and-1, Culpepper found Wiggins for 15 yards and, one play later, went to Wiggins for 22 yards to the 8-yard line. On the next play, Culpepper zipped a pass to Burleson for a touchdown with 2:39 to play in third quarter, making it 24-17.
Green Bay kept on responding every time the Vikings got close, and it was no different this time. Robert Ferguson got it started with a 55-yard kickoff return off of a fake reverse, setting up Favre at the 35-yard line. On third-and-10, Favre hit Antonio Chatman for 14 yards. Two plays later, on third-and-8, Walker came down with a leaping 12-yard grab to the 7-yard line. On second down, William Henderson took a pass from a scrambling Favre in for the touchdown and extended the Green Bay lead back to 14 points, 31-17 with 13:24 left in the game.
Consecutive sacks by Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila brought the Vikings' next drive to a quick halt, but the Vikings defense responded by forcing Green Bay to the sideline after three downs as well.
That set the Vikings up with the ball at the 15-yard line and 8:39 to play. Culpepper led the Vikings on a 16-play touchdown drive with Burleson being the star receiver. He started the drive with two receptions for a combined 14 yards, and Culpepper hit Burleson for 24 yards on third-and-15 three plays later. He was the receiver of choice three plays later on fourth-and-2 and delivered with a 9-yard reception. Robinson picked up another first down with a 17-yard reception, and Burleson immediately followed with a 13-yard catch to the 5-yard line. After an incompletion and a 3-yard completion to Wiggins, the Vikings used a shovel pass to Smith to score a touchdown and pull to 31-24 with 2:53 to play.
The Vikings needed a defensive stop and got it when Russell stopped William Henderson for a 1-yard loss on a screen, E.J. Henderson stuffed Green for a 1-yard loss and Winfield brought down Green after a 6-yard screen on the third play.
It forced a punt, and Culpepper went to work from his own 34-yard line with 2:18 to play. He started with a 9-yard draw, then, in the face of another blitz, found Burleson in single coverage over the middle for 40 yards to the 17-yard line. On the next play, Culpepper checked down to Moe Williams for a 17-yard touchdown to tie the game at 31 with 1:20 to play.
Then it was time for another call to go against the Vikings. The Packers faked another reverse on the kick return, but when Winfield hit Robert Ferguson, the ball came out and Derek Ross fell on it. Ross had the ball stripped in the pileup scrum, and Larry Ned emerged with the ball. Still, the officials ruled that former Viking and current Packer Ben Steele recovered, completely changing the tone and possession of the final drive.
On first down, Brian Williams batted a ball away from Walker and Russell had it glance off his hand. On second down, Fisher came up with a great diving catch against Corey Chavous for 25 yards. After a 7-yard run by Green, the Packers were in position for a 33-yard field goal as time expired for the 34-31 win.
Once again, the Vikings came into Lambeau for a hard-fought divisional game, and once again the close competition came down to the officials' calls. And, once again, the Vikings were on the losing end of their determinations.
The outcome gave both teams 5-4 records, with the Packers now having the head-to-head advantage. This was the stage of the season the Vikings began to collapse last season, allowing the Packers to win the NFC North. Minnesota will have two home games against Detroit and Jacksonville to try to prove that won't happen again.
Kicked Out Of Lambeau, 34-31
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