For the Vikings, there was nothing quite like beating the Green Bay Packers, no matter how strange the game might have been.
After an offseason of acrimony and allegations of tampering, Vikings coach Brad Childress summed up the feeling of many in Minnesota with five simple words in the middle of his opening remarks following the game.
"Great to beat those people," Childress said.
It took a sequence of events that always seems to dot the border rivalry. There were two safeties by the Vikings. There was a gruesome-looking injury. There was a punt return and interception for touchdowns in a span of just over two minutes that turned a 21-10 Vikings lead into a 24-21 Packers lead. And, finally, after an improbable tipped pass that turned into a 19-yard reception to put Green Bay close to field goal range in the final minute, it took a 52-yard field goal attempt sailing wide right before Childress could erase an 0-5 record against the Packers with a 28-21 win.
"I have been here since the beginning of the 0-5 streak, so it feels good to finally beat them," running back Chester Taylor said. "We knew it would be a tough game. It came down to the end like we expected. We made it tougher towards the end with the turnovers and critical mistakes that could have been bad. We need to stop doing that, and we know we can't do that in the rest of the season. "
No matter, a win is a win, and Childress finally conceded that this one might mean more given all the recent bitterness of the rivalry.
"I'm happy to have that game ball. I will paint it up and put it in a prominent spot," he said.
When the final second ticked off the clock and the five-game losing streak ended, the public address system blared the song "I don't want to work," a staple at Lambeau Field after Packers touchdowns, just one more way to spice up the tense rivalry for fans.
"I'm happy for our fans because of all the people who cross the border to work here and live in Wisconsin, for them to have bragging rights in the second game of the season until the next time we play the Packers," Childress said.
It wasn't easy, however, as the Vikings' two minutes of mistakes had them surrendering what was a nice lead in the third quarter until the final minutes of the fourth quarter, but Childress said the players never lost faith.
"I've got a group of fighting fools on that football team," he said. "They don't judge quarters. They don't judge plays. They just play the next one."
Luckily for them, these next ones will mean more with a share of the division lead and their first win over the Packers since 2005.
The celebratory scene might not have been possible if not for two safeties registered by the Vikings defense.
On the first one, Kevin Williams broke through the line and knocked the ball away from Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers, still on his feet, located the ball, picked it up while trying to maintain his balance and threw an underhanded pass while stumbling to the ground.
"We had a good call on. I was looking left and the ball was knocked out of my hands, and I tried to find the ball as quick as I could, while realizing I was in the end zone," he said. "I tried to pick it up and get it towards Tory (Humphrey). I was outside the pocket and the ball was in the vicinity so I just did not want to give up the touchdown. It was a disappointing play."
It was also a controversial play.
"The interpretation I was given was that it was an unnatural throwing motion, so with that the decision was it was a safety," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said.
On the field, the ruling was that Rodgers made an illegal forward pass from the end zone, which is a safety. However, since there was no other forward pass before that, there was some question about the call.
After the game, referee Al Riveron gave a different explanation.
"First of all, the quarterback was in the duress and then he throws the ball to an area where I don't find a receiver in proximity. That is my judgment, and that is why I called it a safety," he said.
When asked if he ruled the play as an illegal forward pass, Riveron said it was intentional grounding, which wasn't the call he made on the field.
Vikings quarterback Gus Frerotte called it a "weird" game, especially for himself.
"I don't even know how to explain the game because it was a weird one for me, to know that physically we could put a lot more points on the board and I could have played a lot better and we should have done some different things. But it didn't happen that way," he said. "Vikings-Packers games seem to always be close no matter what. I am just glad that we came out on the winning side."
The strange plays in this series are many, and the timing of them often add to the flavor. One of them went the Vikings' way on Sunday.
When the Vikings took possession of the ball with just under six minutes remaining, they trailed 27-21 and needed a touchdown. The first order, however, was getting the chains moving with first downs.
On their initial third down of the drive, they nearly got a delay of game because of an ill-timed problem with the communication equipment. Facing third-and-1 from their own 40-yard line, the communicate system to Frerotte's helmet stopped working and he eventually got a call from third-string quarterback John David Booty, huddled up and rushed to the line to snap the ball with only a second or two remaining on the play clock.
"We had no communication with the coach. So the headset went down. Usually I stand in the huddle and wait for the play to come in and we have great communication, but I had nothing coming into me," Frerotte said. "So I am looking and I just get one signal – actually John David Booty gave me the signal on the sideline – I just called the first sign, ‘Let's go lineup.' They gave us a coverage that Bobby Wade was able to get open on the sideline. We ran a little out-route and he made a great catch and we were able to keep the ball on the drive and continue the drive."
When Frerotte entered the huddle, his offensive linemen were telling him to hurry up and just call a sneak. Instead, Frerotte said he had to quickly change the formation of the call because of the personnel on the field.
The communication doesn't go down often, but this certainly wasn't an ideal time to lose it.
"It seems like once or twice a game that it just for some reason – nobody knows why – but it just goes out. So you got to get a quick signal. It seems to always happen in a critical situation – it's crazy," Frerotte said.
Frerotte remained calm in the situation and led the team on the game-winning drive. He completed all three of his passes. That 5-yard pass to Wade was the only play on the final drive that Adrian Peterson didn't handle the ball.
While Frerotte remained a testament to calm among the storm in that final drive, he was part of the reason the Vikings were trailing after a third quarter that featured an interception and a punt returned for touchdowns by the Packers, something that threatened one of the best defensive efforts of the season.
"It's stressful. It takes a lot out of you," defensive end Jared Allen said of the momentum shift in the third quarter. "It was one of those things that defensively we were playing well. It was just one of those things where they get 14 points without you being on the field, you want to go out there and get the ball back. You want to go out there and take that momentum back. The offense really wasn't doing anything and we wanted to go out there and keep playing our game, and unfortunately it came down to a missed field goal. We would have liked to keep them out of that situation, but what can you do when you bat a ball and it ends up in their hands?"
"(It was) a little shocking, a little frustrating and a little irritating, just how it all happened," linebacker Ben Leber said. "Defensively we didn't feel like they could do anything to hurt us. It's unfortunate that they got on top on the scoreboard like that. As a team, we collectively bore down and got it done."
While Frerotte was a calming influence on offense, Pat Williams tried to do the same for the defense.
"It's always a dogfight. Everybody may have thought it was going to be easy when we were up early, but I said, ‘Everybody just calm down. This is going to be a dogfight,'" he said. "Something always happens, and something did happen. They had an interception and ran it back, and they ran a punt back. There's always something happening.
"I said, ‘Everybody just calm down. We have to win this, so just calm down.'"
PICKING ON THE NEW GUY
It didn't take the Vikings long to spot an injury and take advantage of it.
On their first play drive the third quarter, Peterson took a run left and gained 2 yards. Middle linebacker Nick Barnett was hurt on the play, so facing third-and-5 the Vikings went right at Barnett's replacement, Desmond Bishop.
Frerotte threw a short pass to Chester Taylor in the left flat and he stopped to let Bishop fly on by before Taylor turned on the speed and outraced the pursuit to the end zone for a 21-10 Vikings lead.
"We were doing the same thing when Barnett was in there. We try going in there man-to-man because we knew all week they would be man-to-man and that's what we did," Taylor said.
"When the ball came to me, I tried to catch it every time and beat man coverage. We knew they would be playing man-to-man and I know the linebackers couldn't match up with me and Adrian. We just beat them and Gus came to us and it worked out for us."
Notebook: Nothing like beating the Packers
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