After having to stomach back-to-back losses in overtime each of the past two weeks, this time it was Green Bay that made the key plays down the stretch on the way to a critical 28-24 victory over the division-rival Minnesota Vikings.
"Obviously it was a gut-check time," cornerback Tramon Williams said. "We have pretty much been in this situation and have been coming up on the short end of the stick, so we knew we had to get the job done today, and guys just had the mentality to go out and get it done, and we did it."
After the Green Bay offense failed to convert a third-and-3 from its own 44 with 6:14 left, Minnesota took back possession of the ball at its own 17-yard line with the Packers holding a 28-24 lead. After four straight carries by running back Adrian Peterson for a total of 19 yards, the Vikings faced a third-and-7.
Quarterback Brett Favre found rookie running back Toby Gerhart on a screen pass that picked up 6 yards, with linebacker A.J. Hawk making a nice tackle to stop Gerhart short of the first-down marker. Minnesota went for it on fourth-and-1 at its own 42, and Peterson blasted up the middle for a 5-yard gain.
Four plays later, the Vikings found themselves facing another fourth-down situation, this time needing to pick up 5 yards. But they converted again, with Favre humming a 13-yard completion to wide receiver Randy Moss between Williams and safety Nick Collins, and the Vikings looked to be in business at Green Bay's 35 with 1:19 remaining and two timeouts left.
For a Green Bay team that hadn't sacked Favre at all in two games last year and had yet to sack him on Sunday night, second-year defensive end Jarius Wynn put an end to that drought by fighting off a double team to sack Favre on first down for a 6-yard loss. Wynn was seeing significant playing time, as was rookie C.J. Wilson, with the Packers down to just three healthy defensive linemen with Cullen Jenkins (calf) and Ryan Pickett (ankle) both out.
The spark that sack provided was quickly extinguished on the next play when the Packers brought pressure and Favre found Peterson on a screen that he took across the field for 26 yards to the Green Bay 15.
After a false-start penalty on first down on tight end Visanthe Shiancoe pushed Minnesota back 5 yards, Shiancoe bounced back to make a 10-yard reception over the middle. But the gain was wiped out by a personal foul on tackle Phil Loadholt, who pulled linebacker Clay Matthews to the ground by his face mask. Instead of a second-and-5 for Minnesota at the 10, the Vikings now were pushed all the way back to their 35 as they faced a first-and-30.
That next play looked like it might provide for a heartbreaking finish for the Packers. Favre had plenty of time in the pocket, pump faking to buy even more time before finding a leaping Percy Harvin with three defenders nearby in the back of the end zone for a 35-yard touchdown that set off a wild Minnesota celebration.
With there being less than two minutes remaining, the play went to a booth review, and the ruling on the field was overturned as the replay showed that Harvin had failed to get his right foot in bounds.
"I couldn't tell whether he was out," nose tackle B.J. Raji said. "I was just like, No, please God.' That is just one of those plays where you are just hoping it goes your way and it did."
Now facing a second-and-30 with 48 seconds left, Favre found Peterson on a dump-off pass to pick up 15 yards and put the Vikings in a more manageable down-and-distance situation. On third down, Favre rolled out to his right to avoid pressure from Raji, but his pass intended for Moss in the back of the end zone sailed way over the head of the veteran wideout.
With one last chance on fourth down, Favre slipped and fell to the ground as he dropped back before quickly getting back up to avoid pressure from linebacker Frank Zombo. He moved up in the pocket to heave another pass intended for Moss in the back of the end zone, but the throw sailed high once again as linebacker Desmond Bishop put a hit on Moss to break up the play.
"I think (Favre) gave him the best chance to make a play, and I just had to get deep and give Tramon as much help as possible," Bishop said. "I was conscious that I didn't want to get a pass interference or nothing so I just let him jump for the ball. Once he jumped, I jumped and tried to get him out of bounds."
And with that, the Packers had earned a hard-fought victory that snapped a two-game losing streak, one that they hope will provide some momentum as they find themselves right back in the mix of the divisional race at 4-3.
"Getting a stop like that at the end of a big game like that, I think it's not just big for this game but it carries over," Hawk said. "It gets this team, and we have a lot of young guys playing, in a tough situation, a high-pressure situation on both sides, and that will pay off down the road.
"It's just good to get a win. We've been fighting so hard now for weeks and weeks trying to get these types of wins, and it was good to get one tonight."