Turning Point: Third Downs

The Vikings had numerous opportunities to put Sunday night's game away, but one situation continually plagued the defense in the final 12 minutes of the game.

For the first 48 minutes of Sunday's game, Brett Favre had been limited to converting only three of eight third downs. The Vikings defense, which has been maligned much of the season, was more than doing its job. But, as Vikings fans have learned the hard way this year, a game is 60 minutes long and third downs would become the turning point of the game.

The Vikings had five different chances to thwart the Packers in the final minutes, but they failed on each occasion.

The first came with 12 minutes to play on third-and-2. Favre threw a pass behind Donald Driver, but he reached back to make the catch inches from the ground, and a Vikings challenge was denied and cost the team a time out. Two plays later, facing an improbable third-and-13, the Vikings came with Tyrone Carter on a corner blitz. He came in untouched but missed Favre, who sidestepped in the pocket and completed the pass to Robert Ferguson for a 40-yard touchdown to cut the lead to 22-20.

After the Vikings ate more than six minutes off the clock, Favre had a chance to win — and the Vikings defense had a chance to make a critical third-down stop. Again, it wouldn't happen. Starting from his own 15, Favre faced third-and-2 early in the drive. He bought time in the pocket and delivered a 16-yard dart to Javon Walker to keep the drive alive.

Two plays later, the game appeared to be over when Jack Brewer made an interception on a third-down pass. Instead, pass interference was called on Corey Chavous, who was in a pushing match with Driver, and the drive continued. Finally, on what was probably the play of the game, Favre faced third-and-8, and the Vikings pass defense had everyone covered. He escaped a sack from Lance Johnstone that would have taken the Packers out of field goal range and hobbled 8 yards — diving for the first-down marker and keeping the clock going. On the next play, running back Tony Fisher ran in a 14-yard TD for the game-winning score.

Of all the heartbreaking losses for the Vikings this year, this one has to rank at or near the top. With a defense that played well enough to win most of the game, the inability to stop any of the five third downs Favre faced in the final 12 minutes cost the team and resulted in the turning point of the game.

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