After the Vikings' loss last weekend, head coach Brad Childress reminded the media that if the playoffs started then, the Vikings would have been the sixth seed in the NFC. Consider those moral victories – and the real ones – a thing of the past after the Vikings' 23-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers.
The Vikings, like the Packers, now sport a 4-5 record, but the Packers own the head-to-head advantage for now.
All playoff ponderings seem like folly for now, as Minnesota's three-game losing streak – and the lack of quality opponents they have played the last two games – gives the appearance of a team that is fading, not getting better as they become more familiar with Childress' systems.
For one half Sunday, at least, it looked like the offense had found a stride and taken Antoine Winfield's advice to open it up, even if it was without the contributions of former first-round pick Troy Williamson, who was held without a catch. Bethel Johnson had receptions of 40 and 35 yards in the first half, and Billy McMullen had a 40-yarder.
The result was 14 first-half points and what should have been a 14-10 lead after getting down 10-0 to start the game. But an 82-yard breakthrough touchdown by Donald Driver at the end of the first half put the Packers back on top before halftime, a lead they never relinquished.
Not surprisingly, the Green Bay success came via the arm of quarterback Brett Favre, who avoided the costly interceptions that have cost him in the past and finished the game with 347 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Minnesota quarterback Brad Johnson had 257 yards and a touchdown, but he also threw an interception and lost a fumble when he was blindsided in the first half. Those two turnovers resulted in 10 points for the Packers, but Childress said those turnovers weren't the result of "wanton disregard" for protecting the football. Instead, Johnson felt pressure most of the game, as the offensive line and tangential protection broke down often enough.
After each team's opening drive ended three-and-out, Favre and Driver badly exposed the deep middle of the Vikings defense, a portent of things to come. That combination was the story of the Packers' field goal drive, with Driver catching passes of 27, 22 and 20 yards, each on third-and-long and each in the deep middle of the field, setting up the Packers with first-and-10 on the 11-yard line. Despite an 8-yard run by Green, the Packers had to settle for a 20-yard field goal to take a 3-0 lead with 6:40 left in the first quarter.
Instead of answering with his own score, Johnson lost the ball when blindsided by a blitzing Brad Poppinga, a fumble that defensive lineman Corey Williams recovered.
With the ball on the Minnesota 22-yard line, the Packers committed to a surprisingly effective running game. Green picked up 20 yards on the first two rushes of the drive, putting the ball on the 2-yard line, but it would take the Packers until third down to get Noah Herron freed up enough near the goal line for a touchdown and 10-0 lead with 3:34 left in the first quarter.
This time, the Vikings answered. When Travis Taylor came up 1 yard short on a third-down pass pattern in Minnesota territory, Childress went for an unconventional fourth-down attempt and Chester Taylor rewarded him with a 2-yard run that extended the drive. Three plays later, Travis Taylor picked up the first down with a 13-yard slant, and on the next play the Vikings finally hit paydirt with a 40-yard touchdown bomb to Billy McMullen with eight seconds expired in the second quarter.
The defense stiffened, and the Vikings offense was on the field again. Tony Richardson picked up the initial first down of the drive with a 14-yard pass play after breaking a tackle near the line of scrimmage. Brad Johnson went to Bethel Johnson on the next play for a 35-yard bomb down the right sideline. Facing third-and-10 from the Green Bay 16-yard line, Brad Johnson zipped a pass to Chester Taylor in the middle of field that he caught near the goal, but A.J. Hawk knocked the ball loose and Billy McMullen recovered in the end zone for a touchdown and a 14-10 lead with 7:52 left in the second quarter.
The Vikings had an opportunity to take that lead into halftime after stopping the Packers on two consecutive series, but when Favre got the ball back with 1:50 left in the half, he came out chucking it despite being pinned at the 3-yard line. He connected with Greg Jennings on a 12-yard pass, then, one play later, found Driver hitting a seam in the middle of the field that he exploited for an 82-yard touchdown to give Green Bay a 17-14 lead that held up until halftime.
The third quarter brought a number of close calls that all went against the Vikings. Bethel Johnson opened the second half with a kickoff return for a touchdown that came back on an illegal block in the back, and the ensuing drive ended one play after a third-down completion to Travis Taylor was ruled offensive pass interference. On Chris Kluwe's next punt, he was taken out after the kick when Greg Blue was ruled to have blocked the defender into Kluwe although the replay failed to show that.
While the defense held on the next series, a hook and ladder one series later resulted in two close calls. After catching a 12-yard pass, Jennings, as he was being tackled, flipped the ball to Driver, who gained another 36 yards on the play. Childress challenged that Jennings was down, but lost that battle, too, and had another 15 yards added to the end of the play when the Vikings were flagged for a personal foul for a tackle from behind. The series of events led to a Dave Rayner 24-yard field goal for a 20-14 Packers lead with 4:38 left in the third quarter.
The fourth quarter more fortuitously, with a punt that went right through the hands of Mewelde Moore and was immediately kicked through the end zone by a covering Packer, resulting in a touchback instead of a safety for Green Bay.
But the Packers' 20-14 advantage held up through seven more possessions until they drove into field goal range to create a two-possession lead. They started at the 23-yard line with a 14-yard pass to Martin before an 18-yard pass to Bubba Franks brought them across midfield, Another 20-yarder to Martin put them in field goal range, and Rayner nailed a 29-yarder with 2:11 left in fourth quarter to put the Vikings in desperation mode with a 23-14 score.
Passes of 18 yards to McMullen and 27 yards to Moore to start the drive put the ball at the 28-yard line. From there, however, the task became much harder. The Vikings converted one more first down, but three incompletions in five plays forced Ryan Longwell on for a 34-yard field goal with 58 second left to cut the deficit to six points, 23-17.
The Vikings looked to have a pulse when Longwell's onside kick was recovered by Greg Blue, but the plug was quickly pulled when Artose Pinner was offside on the kick, allowing the Packers to kneel down for the 23-17 win and giving them a game in hand on the Vikings in their dimming playoff hopes.
Favre Slices Through Vikings, 23-17
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