Upon Further Review

Erasmus James was just one of the Vikings that made second down a consistent nightmare for Packers QB Brett Favre -- something the team intends to continue Sunday when it faces journeyman Trent Dilfer at the Metrodome.

To every set of downs, there are three – each of which has its own significance. If first, second and third down were looked at in terms of the Three Stooges, second down would be Larry. Success on first downs gives an offense a chance to be versatile and keep defenses off-balance. Success on third down keeps drives alive and invariably leads to points. But success – of lack of it – on second down can make all the difference in a game. This week's Upon Further Review looks at the Vikings defensive approach to Brett Favre and the Packers on second down and how the success or failure of the Packers on that down played a critical role in winning and losing last Monday.

* 2nd-and-4 on the Green Bay 45 with 9:30 remaining. Favre is looking downfield on a four-man rush, but a stunt by Erasmus James cuts him free and he gets a 9-yard sack of Favre, setting up a 3rd-and-13 that the Packers don't convert, forcing a punt.
* 2nd-and-9, Packers 40, 6:20. Favre turns a broken play into a 30-yard pass to running back Samkon Gado, who was in single coverage to get the Packers into Vikings territory. On the drive, Favre faces two other second-down situations. On the first, he converts a 2nd-and-7 with an 8-yard pass to Donald Lee, and, one play later, sloppy tackling allows Lee to gain nine yards, turning what would have been a 3rd-and-14 into a much more manageable 3rd-and-6. Favre finds Donald Driver in single coverage and zips a 15-yard TD pass on the next play – turning three positive second-down plays into a touchdown and a 7-0 Packers lead.

* 2nd-and-5, Packers 33, 14:20. The Packers try to establish the running game by running a second straight run, but MLB Sam Cowart shoots the gap and brings down Gado for a 1-yard loss. Favre is pressured into an incompletion on 3rd-and-6 and the Packers punt.
* 2nd-and-13, Green Bay 40, 10:20. Favre is looking to make something happen after a 3-yard loss by Gado on first down. But, despite a four-man rush that should have afforded him time, Lance Johnstone slips by tackle Chad Clifton and brings Favre down for a 3-yard loss, setting up a 3rd-and-16. Favre completes a dumpoff pass to Tony Fisher, but the Vikings defense has time to track him down for an 8-yard gain to force another punt.
* 2nd-and-10, Packers 26, 3:20. Favre has thrown an incompletion on first down and needs to move the chains to try to sustain a drive that could kill the rest of the first half. He makes the right call after rolling right away from the pass rush and delivers a pass to Gado on the run. The ball is delivered perfectly, but Gado drops it. Needing 10 yards for a first down and about 40 yards to get in field goal range, Favre launches a bomb for Driver that is broken up to end the drive. * 2nd-and-3, Packers 43, :40. With the Vikings fearing the deep pass, Favre crosses them up with a short crossing pass to Andrae Thurman for a first down with 34 seconds to play. The Vikings' concern now is trying to keep the Packers out of field goal range, but, on the next play, Favre goes for the home run with Driver and connects for a 52-yard touchdown to give the Packers a 14-7 lead they take to halftime.

* 2nd-and-4, Green Bay 28, 14:00. The Packers again are trying to find something that works in the running game after Gado gained just nine yards on nine carries in the first half. Instead, Gado fumbles the ball after being stripped by E.J. Henderson. The Packers recover, but Favre is forced to run for his life on third down and his pass falls incomplete to end the drive. As it turns out, that fumble will be the last carry Gado has the rest of the night.
* 2nd-and-14, Green Bay 35, 9:30. The Packers are already in a deep hole after a holding penalty set up a 2nd-and-long. Favre tries to take advantage of a strong Vikings pass rush with a screen to Fisher, but James sticks a hand up and deflects the pass. The Packers implode from there, as a false start and an incompletion force another punt – which leads to the Vikings going on an 8-minute, 88-yard, 13-play drive to tie the game.

* 2nd-and-8, Packers 32, 15:00. Again trying vainly to work the clock on the ground, the Vikings have just seven players in the box and Favre audibles to a run. Fisher takes it up the middle, but the play gets clogged up for a short gain. Favre tries to pick up the first down with a crossing route to Driver, but Antoine Winfield makes a solid open-field tackle, Driver comes up a yard short and the Packers have to punt.
* 2nd-and-10, Vikings 45, 10:00. The Packers have all but abandoned the run at this point and the Vikings know it. Favre again looks for Driver, but CB Brian Williams has dropped into zone coverage and is unseen by Favre. He jumps the route, makes an interception and it leads to the Vikings scoring the go-ahead field goal to take a 17-14 lead.
* 2nd-and-5, Green Bay 38, 4:00. The Packers are trailing for the first time and, as he has done so often, Favre leads his team on a charge. On this play, he finds Lee uncovered over the middle and gains 15 yards for a first down. One play later, facing a 2nd-and-10, Favre throws an incompletion, but picks up a first down when Darrion Scott is whistled for illegal hands to the face. One play later, facing a 2nd-and-7, Favre completes an 11-yard pass to Thurman for a first down on the Minnesota 28. Fans are having visions of previous come-from-behind Favre miracles in mind, but on a 2nd-and-10 from the 28, Favre is pressured and delivers a bullet too high for Antonio Chatman to pull down. The Vikings make a stop on third down and the Packers settle for a game-tying field goal – the last time Favre had a chance to handle the ball during the game.

Much is made about the importance of first down to set up an offense and third down to keep the offense on the field, but Upon Further Review, it was second down that made the difference between a great quarterback like Favre and continued success Monday night. If the Vikings can bring the same kind of pressure to Trent Dilfer Sunday, second down could become more than just Larry – the forgotten Stooge.

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