Any coach will tell you that perhaps the most telling stat other than turnovers in a game is converting on third downs. On offense, third-down conversions keep the chains moving and put teams in position to score. On defense, the failure to do so has much the same result. If you want to figure out why the Vikings got shut out for the first time in 16 regular seasons, third down was the key and it was the clear-cut Turning Point of the Game.
On all of the Packers' scoring drives, making plays on third down was what proved to be the death knell for the Vikings. It started early and maintained throughout.
On the Packers' opening drive of the game, the Vikings defense had a shot to send Brett Favre to the sidelines with a three-and-out. On a third-and-3 from his own 25, Favre completed a shovel pass of six yards to Vernand Morency for a first down. Six plays later, the Vikings stopped the Packers on a third-and-3, but with the ball on the Vikings 34, it was deemed too far for Mason Crosby to try a 52-yard field goal. Green Bay went for the first down and Favre got an unlikely conversion – completing a short pass to Koren Robinson short of the first down. But K-Rob was untouched and got up and leapfrogged the needed yardage for a first down. Two plays later, running back Ryan Grant galloped 30 yards for a touchdown to give the Packers a 7-0 lead.
With the score still 7-0, Favre faced a third-and-8 from his own 45-yard line. He scrambled away from the Vikings pass rush and completed a 25-yard strike to Ruvell Martin. While the drive would stall, the conversion got the Packers to the Minnesota 20-yard line, where Mason Crosby converted a 39-yard field goal to give the Packers a 10-0 lead.
With two minutes to play in the half, the Packers have the ball on their own 22 facing a third-and-7. Favre delivered a 19-yard strike to Donald Driver. Four plays later, after a third-down pass to Robinson left Green Bay with a fourth-and-1, Favre and Driver connected again for six yards and another first down. Three plays later, Favre again converted on a third-and-2 that got the ball to the 7-yard line. With time running out, the Packers settled for a field goal to take a 13-0 lead at halftime. For the half, the Packers converted four of eight third-down attempts, but considering they converted on a pair of fourth down plays, they actually made good on six of 10.
The Packers took the opening kickoff and, after a pair of runs by Grant left Favre with a third-and-5, he converted with a 6-yard pass to Greg Jennings. Faced with a third-and-2 four plays later, Favre and Jennings connected again – this time for 34 yards to the Vikings 7-yard line. Two plays later, Favre threw a touchdown pass to Donald Lee to make the score 20-0.
On the Packers' next possession, Favre faced a third-and-5 from his own 36. He completed a 24-yard pass to Driver to get into Vikings territory. Four plays later, facing a third-and-9 from the Vikings 23, Favre called a screen to Brandon Jackson, who picked his way through defenders for 13 yards and another first down. Two plays later, with a third down from the 8-yard line, Favre again came through – completing an 8-yard TD pass to Martin to make the score 27-0.
On Favre's final drive of the game, he began from his own 4-yard line. After picking up a couple of first downs, he was faced with a third-and-2 from his own 41. He launched a pass down the left sideline for James Jones, who hauled it in for a 37-yard gain to the Vikings 22-yard line. Two plays later, facing a third-and-5, Favre threw a pass that looked like it would be picked off by Cedric Griffin. Instead, Griffin and Darren Sharper collided and the ball bounced up into the hands of Martin for his second TD of the day to make the score 34-0.
For the game, the Packers converted on 11 of 17 third-down opportunities, but on two of the six in which they didn't convert first downs, they made good by going for it on fourth down. So, in reality, the Packers made good on 13 of 17 plays when the Vikings defense needed a stop.
Turning Point: Third-Down Failure
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