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Game Review: Rally For Naught As Vikings Control Division Race

Brett Favre made a triumphant return to Lambeau Field for the Minnesota Vikings, and much will be made of that, to be sure. But the more lasting impact of Sunday’s 38-26 decision was on the NFC North Division race. - More Packers-Vikings Game Center

Brett Favre made a triumphant return to Lambeau Field for the Minnesota Vikings, and much will be made of that, to be sure.

But the more lasting impact of Sunday's 38-26 decision was on the NFC North Division race.

Falling to the Vikings for the second time in a month after a valiant second-half comeback fell short, the Packers at 4-3 have dropped two games behind the 7-1 Vikings in the loss column and face a daunting uphill climb if they want to capture the division crown.

This loss essentially puts Green Bay three games behind Minnesota because the Vikings will own any tiebreaker scenario based on the season sweep, and that's the part that hurts the Packers the most, far more than seeing their former quarterback win on the turf he called home for 16 seasons.

"These division games are worth a game and a half, sometimes two," Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. "This was a tough one. No doubt about it. It was a tough one for everybody."

Things couldn't have started any rougher for the Packers, who tried to rally from a 21-point deficit in the second half. They pulled within four points once and five points another time, firing up the Lambeau regular-season record crowd of 71,213, but it wasn't enough.

Like he was in the Metrodome a month ago, Favre was the star once again against his old team. He completed 17-of-28 passes for 244 yards with four touchdowns (128.6 rating) and wasn't intercepted or sacked once.

Favre and the Vikings took control early while the Packers were sputtering. Green Bay managed just 47 yards of offense and three first downs in the entire first half. The Packers had to settle for a field goal after recovering a fumbled shotgun snap at the Minnesota 21-yard line, and on four of their other five possessions in the half never moved the ball beyond their own 24.

Meanwhile, a 77-yard kickoff return by Percy Harvin set up a 1-yard TD run by Adrian Peterson on fourth-and-goal, Favre hit tight end Visanthe Shiancoe for a 12-yard score, and - after the Packers stopped the Vikings on fourth-and-1 at the Green Bay 7 - former Packers kicker Ryan Longwell still managed to add a field goal before halftime.

By the time Favre opened the second half by converting a third-and-17 with a rocket throw to Bernard Berrian, and followed on the next snap with a 51-yard TD pass to Harvin between three Green Bay defenders, Minnesota led 24-3 and seemingly could do no wrong.

Then the Packers finally got going.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers directed three straight scoring drives worth 17 points and by the end of the third quarter were back in the game.

A 62-yard march for a field goal followed by a fumble on the ensuing kickoff set up a 16-yard TD pass to Spencer Havner. Then after a three-and-out by the defense, Rodgers drove the Packers 84 yards, with the help of a 42-yard catch-and-run by James Jones, to another Havner TD reception from 5 yards out.

Suddenly the Packers had racked up 187 yards of offense in about 11 minutes and had given themselves a chance, down only 24-20.

"I told them at halftime that this second half was going to be a turning point in our season," McCarthy said. "It was important for us to go out there and turn this game around and make a run and win this game. I felt that was happening there in the third quarter."

So it was. Unfortunately, Harvin and the Vikings weren't done. The rookie speedster struck again with a 48-yard kickoff return to the Green Bay 38, setting up a seven-play drive capped by a 2-yard TD pass to Jeff Dugan on third-and-goal.

The Packers responded with a 74-yard scoring drive, highlighted by a career-long 35-yard scramble by Rodgers and a 10-yard TD pass to Greg Jennings, who had all eight of his catches for 88 yards in the second half. A failed 2-point try left the Packers down 31-26 with 10:26 left in the game, but it seemed as though the offense was rolling.

"I started hitting guys who were open," was the simple explanation from Rodgers, who finished 26-of-41 for 287 yards with three TDs (108.5 rating). "In the first half I struggled. Missed a couple of throws I should have hit. When we get into a rhythm on offense, we're tough to stop."

The Vikings did get the one stop they needed, though. The only time the Packers got the ball trailing by only one score in the second half, they drove all the way to the Minnesota 28-yard line, only to see a sack on second down - the sixth sack Rodgers took in the game - an incompletion on third down and a missed 51-yard field goal stall the rally.

"We just couldn't get that score to take the lead there in the fourth quarter," Rodgers said. "So that's frustrating."

Equally frustrating was yet another answer by Minnesota. Peterson was held in check most of the game, gaining 54 of his 97 yards on two carries and just 43 yards on his other 23 rushes.

But he broke loose for a 44-yard gain on a swing pass into the left flat, which set up Favre's fourth TD pass of the game, a 16-yarder to Berrian with 3:48 left that sealed the game and the two-game sweep in the season series.

{sportsad300}While some of the numbers will look comparable in the inevitable Favre vs. Rodgers comparison - Favre threw for 515 yards with seven TD passes and no interceptions in the two games, while Rodgers threw for 671 yards with five TDs and one pick - one stat sticks out like a sore thumb. Favre wasn't sacked once while Rodgers absorbed a whopping 14 sacks in the two contests.

"This one will hurt for a couple days," Rodgers said. "Physically and mentally."

Mentally is where the Packers must bounce back the strongest, because with nine games left and a record on the plus side of .500, there's still plenty to play for even if the Vikings are comfortably in front at the moment.

"This was the game to put us back in first place in the NFC North, and now we're in a hole and we've got to dig ourselves back out," linebacker Aaron Kampman said. "No one is going to help us with that. We've got to find a way to do that ourselves."

As painful as it might be, they'll do it by looking at the chances they had in the two losses to the Vikings, chances that got away. As linebacker Nick Barnett said, "We're not throwing the season away," but looking up at their border rivals in the division race for the foreseeable future will be tough to stomach because of what might have been.

"Both games against Minnesota were playoff-like atmospheres I guess you could say, but it doesn't benefit you when you lose in those games," Rodgers said. "We have to store up some confidence in winning these kind of games.

"The way we played in the second half, we were really one big play away from taking the momentum entirely and taking the lead there. The great teams find a way to win those games. I think we're a good team with the potential to be great, but we're going to have to really improve."

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