The Packers were hoping to capitalize on their Bye Week rest. They were hoping to take advantage of a Minnesota Vikings team in disarray on and off the field. They were hoping to build on their lopsided victory against the New Orleans Saints. They needed this win and they were bound and determined to get it. Instead, they let a big one get away, and now their climb back to respectability -- let alone playoff contention -- is daunting.
Did the Vikings want this game more than the Packers? I don't think so. The Packers played extremely hard, but the Vikings simply outplayed the Packers in the second half. What a shame. In the first half, the Packers had things going their way behind a masterful performance by Brett Favre and an opportunistic defense that sacked Daunte Culpepper four times. Favre was nearly perfect in his play, and the offense moved the ball extremely well, scoring 17 unanswered points and dominating the clock.
Then came the second half, and everything turned upside down. The Vikings came out and found a way to get things going their way. You have to give them a ton of credit. Down 17 points and in a situation where they had struggled all year, they were able to finally come out and play up to their capabilities. I don't think anybody -- except the Vikings themselves -- believed they could do it. Culpepper spread the ball around, was very accurate and he didn't make any mistakes. Meanwhile, the Packers were only able to manage 45 yards on the ground. When you're trying to do everything through the air, it's just too difficult.
As a former quarterback, I found this game an interesting study in contrasts with Favre looking absolutely sensational, particularly in the first half, and Culpepper pulling his game together in the second half. Favre played a near perfect game, and I can't say enough about the way he's throwing the ball and his decision-making. They are so much better than they were during the first few games this year. He's really stepping into his throws. They're precise and accurate, and he's also throwing on the run. He's doing everything a quarterback can do and doing it under pressure. That first touchdown pass was an incredible throw, and Donald Driver made a great catch. Favre had pressure right in his face and took a huge hit right in the mouth, but he stood in the pocket and delivered a perfect strike.
Culpepper, meanwhile, refused to fold his tent after a miserable first half. He came out with a nothing-to-lose attitude and showed solid leadership. He didn't hold onto the ball as long as he did in the first half. He spread out the Packers defense with a four-receiver set out of the shotgun and he also used his strength as a runner to take advantage of the draw play. He was extremely accurate with his throws and he inspired his teammates. It also looked to me like the Packers defense got tired in the second half because Minnesota kept throwing the ball and used a no-huddle offense to keep things moving. The Vikings have plenty of talent in their receiving corps and they stepped up to complement Culpepper's second half performance. They made the plays when they had to, and that made Paul Edinger's 56-yard game-winning field goal possible.
Watching the second half collapse was very discouraging for Packer fans everywhere. One thing that I found particularly frustrating was the play of Green Bay's special teams. The Vikings had good field position all day on their kickoff returns. Uncharacteristically, Ryan Longwell missed two field goals. The one in the fourth quarter really hurt because it would have given the Packers the opportunity to go up 20-10. It doesn't look like the snapper, the holder and the kicker are all on the same page. The result has been more problems in the kicking game than we've seen in a long, long time. Nobody wants to blame anybody, but they obviously need to continue to work in that area.
Injuries are an unfortunate part of this game -- don't I know it! Right now, the Packers are absolutely decimated. I have to feel for Favre as he watches so many of his great teammates being lost for the season or for sizeable stretches of time. Ahman Green, Javon Walker and Najeh Davenport are out for the season. Robert Ferguson is out for several weeks. Considering how thin they are at the receiver position, the Packers played real well on Sunday. Donald Driver really stepped up in the first half with some great catches and runs after the catch. He needed to do that because he's the number one guy. Now, with Fergy out, his job becomes even tougher. The Vikings rolled extra coverage his way to shut Driver down in the second half, and you can expect other teams to do the same thing in coming weeks.
So now the Packers face what, on paper, appears to be the roughest part of their 2005 schedule -- Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Minnesota and Philadelphia. Every week, especially with the injury situation, will be a huge, uphill battle. The Bengals, Green Bay's next opponent, lost to Pittsburgh so they're a bunch of angry cats right now. They're loaded with talent, are at home and have something to prove. That's not a good sign for Green Bay, and it will take a supreme effort -- and maybe a little good luck for a change -- to wind up with a victory.
Don "Majik" Majkowski was inducted into the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame earlier this year. His career for the Packers spanned six seasons (1987-92), including being named to the Pro Bowl in 1989 when he led the NFL in passing yards. In addition to his duties with Packers.com, Majik provides football analysis for WSSP-AM, SportsRadio 1250 in Milwaukee, WDUZ SportsRadio 107.5 & 1400 The Fan in Green Bay, WTSO - ESPN 1070 in Madison, WDEZ in Wausau, and WIZD in Stevens Point. Visit Majik's Web site, www.majiknetwork.net, for more information.