The Green Bay Packers' 23-20 loss to the Minnesota Vikings was a tale of two halves.
The Packers, forced to play from behind for much of the season, stormed out to a 17-0 halftime lead but scored only three points in the second half. The Vikings, shut out in the first half, scored on every second half possession, including Paul Edinger's game-winning 56-yard field goal as time expired.
"It felt good off my foot," Edinger said. "I knew I had the distance. I just looked up to make sure it was fine where I needed it to fly, and it was right down the middle."
Edinger's field goal, which set a personal and Vikings record for distance, culminated a three-play, 26-yard drive. That score came 24 seconds after Brett Favre led an 11-play, 56-yard fourth quarter drive in 2:46, which tied the game at 20 on a Ryan Longwell 39-yard field goal.
Favre looked very sharp, completing 28-of-36 passes for 315 yards, especially during the first half when he misfired on only three passes. Completing 16-of-19 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns, he helped the Packers compile 254 first half yards.
But the Packers also received a little help from the 2-4 Vikings, a team that had been plagued by mistakes throughout the year. They allowed three sacks, fumbled a fourth-and-inches snap, failed to score after a 72-yard kickoff return and dropped a "Hail Mary" touchdown pass.
In the second half, the Packers made the crucial mistakes while the Vikings' offense moved the ball with ease. Center Scott Wells fumbled a third down snap, which forced the Packers to settle for a field goal attempt. Longwell, who connected and missed on separate 53-yarders, hooked the ensuing 42-yard attempt to the right.
Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper threw for 228 of his 280 yards in the second half.
"He did a great job managing the game," Packers Head Coach Mike Sherman said. "He was accurate, made good decisions, and also ran and completed some third down conversions for them. Hats off to him, he is a great player."
Running back Mewelde Moore racked up 60 receiving yards and a touchdown in the second stanza as well.
The Vikings focused on limiting wide receiver Donald Driver during that period. In the first half Driver caught six balls for 101 yards and a touchdown and made a pair of spectacular plays. His one-handed, 22-yard touchdown catch of a Favre bullet capped an eight-play, 96-yard-drive. In the second quarter Driver caught a ball thrown behind him and broke three tackles on his way to a 40-yard-gain.
The Vikings routinely double-teamed him in the second half. Driver finished with eight catches for 114 yards on the day and might face similar coverage in future games. No. 2 wide receiver Robert Ferguson injured his ankle in the second quarter and did not return, which left the Packers with three active wide receivers for the game -- Driver, Chatman and former practice squader Jamal Jones.
Ferguson was in the midst of a great performance before hurting his ankle. In the first quarter he gained eight yards by breaking tackles on a pass play that was going nowhere. In the second quarter he caught a 44-yard pass on 3rd-and-8 off a play-action-fake. It was on that play, part of the 96-yard drive, when Ferguson crumpled to the turf with 13:26 left.
The Packers suffered another major injury during the fourth quarter. Running back Ahman Green injured his knee when he took a handoff off right tackle and was tackled by linebacker E.J. Henderson. Green aggravated a quadriceps tendon injury, which forced him to miss the last game.
Green rushed 16 times for 49 yards and caught two passes for 18 yards. Despite playing at less than 100 percent, he showed some of his old burst. He broke a Sam Cowart tackle for a 13-yard-gain with 3:17 left in the third quarter. As of press time, the severity of the injury was not known. With No. 2 running back Najeh Davenport (ankle) already out for the year, an injury to Green could prove costly.
"Guys are going to have to step up," cornerback Al Harris said.
Without some of their key skill players, the Packers successfully used two- and three-tight-end-sets on several occasions. Donald Lee caught three passes for 21 yards, and David Martin caught two passes for 30 yards, including a nimble 21-yard-gain on the Packers' last drive of the game. Bubba Franks caught three passes for 38 yards, including a 14-yard pass from running back Tony Fisher.
The Vikings also displayed some trickery in the second half. A 10-yard reception to wide receiver Nate Burleson came on a flea flicker during their final touchdown drive, which gave them their first lead of the game at 20-17.
Although that play went right, nearly everything in the first half went wrong for the Vikings. At the Packers' 35 yard-line, the Vikings fumbled a snap on 4th-and-inches. Wide receiver Koren Robinson returned a kickoff 72 yards to the Packers' 23-yard-line. But Nick Barnett forced a Moore fumble, and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila recovered. At the end of the first half, Culpepper heaved a 55-yard "Hail Mary" pass. Several players leaped for the ball, but it went through Burleson's arms.
The Vikings, however, showed they could operate from long distance, when Edinger nailed the 56-yard-game winner. The field goal completed a 17-point comeback and added another layer to an NFC North rivalry replete with memorable games.