Game 9: Highlights, Lowlights and Notes

There's something about the Vikings playing in Green Bay with freaky plays and controversy. Sunday's game didn't help calm those rough waters as the Packers used a highly controversial call in the final two minutes to their advantage. Plus, get notes on the good Vikings performers and the bad ones, and there were plenty of each in this tight game.

The officials in Green Bay have long been a sore spot for the Vikings, dating back to the Denny Green days. They were making some controversial calls again Sunday that cost the Vikings again.

On the Packers' second touchdown of the game, Brett Favre threw a shovel pass to running back Tony Fisher, who was stripped of the ball before entering the end zone. The ball bounced into the end zone and scrum ensued. The officials ruled that Fisher recovered the ball in the end zone, despite the fact they didn't rule that immediately. When the pile was uncovered, it was Kenechi Udeze who jogged out of the end zone with the ball.

Vikings coach Mike Tice had already wasted a challenge earlier, and he correctly threw the flag after this play. However, since the officials ruled that Fisher had recovered, the controversial call couldn't be challenged. This was one time Tice was correct in trying to challenge.

The final possession of the game brought more of the same controversy. The Vikings had just tied the game at 31-31 and Robert Ferguson was on his way to another big kickoff return for the Packers when Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield stripped him of the ball. Replays showed Derek Ross recovering the ball, then being contacted down, at which point the play should have been over. Instead, the officials allowed a scrum to ensue while they stood near the pile and looked at each other.

After the game, Ross said he had the ball. Former Viking and current Packer Ben Steele said he had it (the officials eventually ruled that way). And Viking Larry Ned was the one running around with the ball. Tice said the fact the Vikings had possession of the ball at that point must have been a "myth." It was either a myth or another Lambeau leap of faith for the officials. One minute, 20 seconds later, the Packers won on a 33-yard field goal as time expired.

Incidentally, Steele was the tight end the Vikings cut at the end of training camp and would have re-signed when Jim Kleinsasser suffered his season-ending knee injury if Steele hadn't turned off Tice with his salty attitude when informed he was being released.

According to one report, the Vikings attempted to sign Steele from the Packers' practice squad earlier this season, but Green Bay elected to promote him to their 53-man roster before that happened.

Without superstar wide receiver Randy Moss for the second complete game (and really the fourth straight game after being used as a decoy in the previous two games), the Vikings needed other receivers to step up. Nate Burleson and Jermaine Wiggins did exactly that.

Burleson had a career day in receptions (11) and yards (141), and tight end Wiggins added a career-best 94 yards on six catches.

Without Moss, there is no question that the Vikings offense isn't as explosive. Besides a 40-yard pass to Burleson in the final two minutes of the game, the Vikings didn't have a pass longer than 22 yards. Still, quarterback Daunte Culpepper continued to manage a very efficient game. Despite receiving pressure often, Culpepper finished without an interception or fumble, and his line read 44-27-363-4-0 with a rating of 117.9.

Despite escaping pressure a number of times, Culpepper was still sacked four times while Brett Favre wasn't sacked once.

Because of a shoulder injury to Onterrio Smith, Michael Bennett made his first start of the 2004 season. However, by the middle of the second quarter Smith was getting the workload and giving the offense the more explosive runs. Each finished with only five rushes for 21 yards, and the Vikings totaled only 16 rushes for the game despite averaging 4.4 yards per carry.

It seems that with Moss out, spreading out the defense and running is out as well.

The combination of unnecessary timeouts and unnecessary challenges left the Vikings woefully short of timeouts again in the first half. On the Packers' third drive of the game late in the first quarter, tight end David Martin caught a 35-yard pass over safety Brian Russell. Martin came down out of bounds, but the ruling on the field was that Russell forced him out and that part of the call couldn't be challenged. Instead, head coach Mike Tice challenged that Martin had possession when he came down with the ball. Replays showed Martin clearly did have possession, and the ruling on the field was upheld. That was one timeout gone.

On the Vikings' ensuing drive, they used up their final two timeouts, both coming on third-down plays where Daunte Culpepper either didn't like the play called or didn't have enough time to get the snap off. Either way, with more than nine minutes to play in the first half the Vikings were out of timeouts.

The kicking game continues to be the bane of the Mike Tice era. The Vikings' kickoff woes resurfaced in Lambeau. They lost Aaron Elling to a broken leg Monday night after he had been kicking off admirably. The Vikings signed Jose Cortez Wednesday, and Cortez struggled with kicking the ball deep.

Many of his kickoffs came down around the 10-yard line and the Packers' average field position on kickoffs was their own 40-yard line. By contrast, the Vikings averaged starting on their own 30-yard line after five Green Bay kickoffs.

The biggest factor in those average-start numbers was two returns from Robert Ferguson, one for 55 yards and another for 37 yards. Both of those came on fake reverses that opened up running lanes for Ferguson.

With Antoine Winfield's great coverage skills to date in his first season with the Vikings, it appears that opponents are going after Minnesota's other starting cornerback, Brian Williams. The Indianapolis Colts seemed to prefer going Williams' way with their passing game last Monday night.

Against the Packers, on Brett Favre's second pass of the game and facing third-and-10 at the 50-yard line, Williams was the recipient of Green Bay's attack. This time, Williams had perfect coverage on Javon Walker, but Walker muscled the ball away from the cornerback with a great adjustment on the ball and scored a few steps later to give Green Bay a 7-0 lead.

Replays of the Walker touchdown made it look like strong safety Corey Chavous might have been able to jar the ball loose with a hit, but he may have been anticipating Williams coming down with the ball and didn't want to break up that opportunity.

On the Packers' second touchdown drive, free safety Brian Russell had a shot to at least knock down a pass to tight end David Martin. But Russell never looked back to locate the ball.

On the Packers' third touchdown, tight end Bubba Franks split a seam between Chavous and Russell for a 17-yard touchdown. Chavous was protecting against a pass in the flats to Martin and Russell couldn't get over to help.

After spending last Monday night back at home watching the Vikings on TV, wide receiver Randy Moss, sidelined with a partially torn hamstring, traveled to Green Bay and was on the sideline in street clothes.

The Vikings deactivated veteran defensive tackle Steve Martin, giving rookie free agent Spencer Johnson a more active role in the defensive line rotation. Johnson was active for the first time Monday night but didn't play a large role since he and Martin were both active. Johnson finished Sunday's game against the Packers with five tackles in extended action. That's more than Chris Hovan (3) and Kevin Williams (3).

Darren Bennett has been struggling lately, and he admitted as much this week. It didn't get any better Sunday. He averaged only 35.2 yards. Combined with Cortez's kickoffs, it hasn't been a good kicker run lately.

Besides the surprise Martin deactivation, the Vikings deactivated QB Shaun Hill (emergency QB), RB Mewelde Moore, LB Raonall Smith, LB Rod Davis, G Anthony Herrera, G Adam Haayer and Moss.

The Packers deactivated QB J.T. O'Sullivan (emergency QB), P B.J. Sander, WR/KR Kelvin Kight, CB Chris Johnson, LB Nick Rogers, OL Brad Bedell, G Steve Morley and DL Kenny Peterson.

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