Game Review: Dramatic Win Keeps Packers In Playoff Hunt

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No one in the Green Bay Packers' locker room even wanted to think about what this one would have felt like to lose.

It would have felt worse than squandering a 13-point lead against New Orleans, worse than losing a fumble in the waning seconds of a three-point loss to St. Louis, and much worse than dominating Buffalo statistically only blow the game on turnovers.

But fortunately, and finally, this one went Green Bay's way.

Dave Rayner's 44-yard field goal with 1 minute, 34 seconds left made a dominant defensive performance stand up as the Packers edged the Vikings 9-7 in front of 70,864 fans who braved the rain on Thursday night at Lambeau Field.

The Packers won their third straight game for the first time this season, improved to 7-8, and kept their playoff hopes alive heading into a scoreboard-watching weekend.

"We're just staying in the mix, getting wins," cornerback Charles Woodson said. "(At) 7-8 you wouldn't think you could think about any type of playoff implications. But here we are, we're in the middle of it, and who knows what will happen."

It was hard to know how this one was going to end. Rayner had missed two of four field goal tries earlier in the game, slipping badly on the wet turf in the first quarter and drilling the upright in the second quarter.

The botched field goals were just part of a frustrating night for the Packers offense, which never found the end zone and made two huge blunders in the second half that nearly cost Green Bay the game.

First, leading 6-0 in the third quarter with a first down at the 40, quarterback Brett Favre and receiver Greg Jennings got crossed up on a route, and Favre's pass went right to Minnesota cornerback Fred Smoot, who returned it 47 yards untouched for the score.

Then, trailing 7-6 in the fourth quarter and driving for the potential go-ahead touchdown, the turnover bug bit again. On third-and-7 from the Minnesota 9, tight end Bubba Franks caught a short pass, had a first down at the 1-yard line and while trying to dive across the goal line fumbled the ball, with Minnesota's Antoine Winfield recovering with 8:32 left in the game.

"We definitely had some opportunities where we shot ourselves in the foot, and we have to stop doing that," center Scott Wells said. "There's one bad play that overshadows everything else."

Even the game-winning drive had its struggles.

Favre got it started with a perfectly thrown deep ball to Ruvell Martin, who beat Winfield down the right sideline for a 36-yard gain to the Minnesota 27. On the play, running back Ahman Green picked up a blitzing Viking to give Favre time to loft the throw, and Martin ran under it and hauled it in.

"I walked up to Brett afterwards and said 'Hey, I appreciate the trust,'" Martin said. "For him to give me an opportunity like that in the clutch moments of the game, I was very happy he did and obviously I'm happy I came through for him."

From there, two straight runs lost 2 yards, and then a false start on Daryn Colledge pushed Green Bay back to the 34, making it third-and-17 and a potential field goal longer than 50 yards.

A well-executed screen pass to Green appeared to pick up the first down and get the ball all the way inside the 5, but a holding call downfield on Franks made it a net gain of just 7 yards. Then a 1-yard run by Noah Herron brought on Rayner.

"I had to make that kick," Rayner said. "My job might have been riding on that kick, missing the two in the first half in such a big game.

"I just wanted an opportunity to hit a game-winner, and it worked out well."

The defense was certainly thankful its stellar effort wasn't squandered. Combining sure tackling with steady pressure, the Packers made the Vikings' offense and rookie quarterback Tarvaris Jackson totally ineffective.

{sportsad300}Making his first NFL start, Jackson completed 10 of 20 passes for just 50 yards, was sacked three times by Aaron Kampman, and threw an interception the only time he got the ball into Green Bay territory. Early in the third quarter, Woodson stepped in front of Travis Taylor at the Green Bay 26-yard line and thwarted the Vikings' only legitimate drive in the game.

The Vikings finished with just 104 total yards and three first downs. They went three-and-out eight times and were 2-for-14 on third downs. Minnesota hurt itself all night with penalties (10 for 68 yards), including two illegal shift flags that negated crucial third-down completions of 11 and 42 yards to Taylor.

The biggest stop came right after Franks' fumble on the goal line in the fourth quarter. Starting from their 3, the Vikings gained one first down, but then Jackson was tackled by safety Nick Collins after a 2-yard scramble on third-and-5, forcing a punt from the 25 that gave the offense 4:47 to work with on the game-winning drive.

"It was a good all-around effort by the defense, the whole team," cornerback Al Harris said. "Everybody stuck together. When the momentum shifted, we didn't let the air out of the balloon. We just stood strong."

They did so after Rayner's clutch kick as well. With 1:28 left and Minnesota on its own 31, a sack by Kampman and tackle-for-loss by linebacker Nick Barnett set up third-and-long.

Then Jackson's scramble was 5 yards shy of a first down, and his fourth-down pass to Billy McMullen sailed out of bounds, giving the Packers their second series sweep of an NFC North opponent in the last five days as well as hope for a .500 season and possible playoff berth.

At 7-8, the Packers need to beat NFC North champion Chicago next week and get some help to get in, and losses this weekend by the Giants, Falcons and Rams would aid the cause. Because the Giants are the only other team with seven wins fighting for the NFC's No. 6 seed, their game against New Orleans is the most critical this weekend.

"We're glad to be in the hunt for the playoffs, and it's good," linebacker A.J. Hawk said. "We knew if we could get this game and hopefully play well next week and get that one, then we'll have a chance, and we'll see how it works out."

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