Beset by injuries throughout the season, the Packers repeatedly have found it necessary to close ranks and muster all available resources, both personnel and psychological, in order to capture a division championship and qualify for the playoffs.
Because of their physical woes, it has been commonplace for them to be missing two or more starters almost any week of the season and Sunday's contest was no exception. Javon Walker started at wide receiver for Terry Glenn, Tony Fisher at running back for Ahman Green, Rod Walker at nose tackle for Gilbert Brown and Tod McBride at cornerback for Tyrone Williams.
Additionally, the latest example of the Packers' depth occurred in Sunday's game-long struggle to overcome the Minnesota Vikings, who mounted an early 3-0 lead and remained out front until the last 66 seconds of the contest, played in conditions more common to ice fishing than performing on the gridiron. The temperature was a frigid 11 degrees at kickoff, which equated to a wind chill reading of 6 degrees.
Early in the second quarter, wide receiver Robert Ferguson was called upon to step in for Javon Walker, who had developed an ankle problem after starting himself for an injured Terry Glenn. Ferguson, a special teams standout but one who had seen limited action at wide receiver, proceeded to show why Mike Sherman and Ron Wolf had opted to select him in the second round of the 2001 draft after he had played only one season of varsity football as a collegian.
Ferguson proceeded to capitalize on his opportunity, snaring 6 passes for 105 yards and 2 touchdowns, all personal career bests. And it was Ferguson's second score on a 40-yard bullseye from a scrambling Brett Favre that pulled the Packers to within 2 points of the Vikings (22-20) in the fifth minute of the fourth quarter, setting the stage for a late, final drive to the winning touchdown.
Poetically enough, the latter was scored by rookie running back Tony Fisher, standing in for an injured Ahman Green, who bolted off tackle for the 14-yard, go-ahead touchdown, with only 1:06 remaining in the game. It was Fisher who carried the rushing load in the previous week's come-from-behind victory over Chicago, gaining 91 yards in 17 attempts after Green was forced to leave the game with a knee problem.
Fisher's decisive excursion ended a laborious process for the Packers, who fell behind 13-0 in the early going, a pair of turnovers (a lost fumble and a Minnesota interception staking the invaders to 13 points during that span.
The Packers closed to 13-6 at halftime, via two Ryan Longwell field goals, but they still trailed, 22-13, as the fourth quarter began, the Vikings having scored on a 3-yard run by quarterback Daunte Culpepper and a 37-yard Gary Anderson field goal during the third period.
As has so often been the case, the Packers' second half renaissance was traceable in large part to Favre's competitive resources. He presided over three touchdown drives - of 67, 54 and 85 yards - during that span to pull the proverbial rug from under the Vikings.
The final and decisive 85-yard march was the seventh of at least 80 yards that Favre has engineered this season.
The defense, meanwhile, rose to the challenge in the late going, holding the visitors scoreless in the fourth quarter.
THE FAVRE FILE: Brett Favre made significant Packers and NFL history in orchestrating yet another successful comeback. In the process of passing for 214 yards (22 completions in 32 attempts), Favre surpassed the 3,000-yard mark for the eleventh consecutive year, extending his NFL record.
Dan Marino, who has passed for 3,000 yards in nine seasons, is runner-up to Favre in league annals.
Favre also made his 170th consecutive start, extending his NFL record for quarterbacks, and played in his 172nd straight game, the second-longest such streak in team history behind Forrest Gregg's 187.
In addition, Favre engineered his 26th career game-winning comeback - victories in which he has rallied the Packers from a fourth-quarter deficit or tie - and improved his perfect record at home in cold weather to 34-0 when the temperature at kickoff is 34 degrees or below.
Since Favre launched his 170-game starting streak (on Sept. 27, 1992) only the 49ers (114-56) have a better record than Green Bay (113-57).
THE LONGWELL FILE: Placekicker Ryan Longwell officially joined the Packers' exclusive 700-point "Club" by dint of a 33-yard field goal in the second quarter of Sunday's game. It padded his career point total to 702. He later added another field goal and a pair of conversions to close out the evening with 707.
Longwell, a sixth-year professional, joins the late Don Hutson, the team's all-time leader with 823 points, Chris Jacke (820), and Paul Hornung (760).
The 28-year-old Cal-Berkeley alumnus now has made his last 13 consecutive field goal attempts, leaving him just four short of Chris Jacke's club record 17 straight, and 49 extra points in succession.
Longwell's 13 consecutive field goals tie his personal career mark, a number he has reached twice previously.
THE FISHER FILE: Rookie Tony Fisher, making his first NFL start in replacing the injured Ahman Green, was equal to the task. The hard-hitting Notre Dame alumnus rushed for a career-high 96 yards in 25 attempts (following a 91-yard effort against Chicago a week earlier) and also caught 5 passes for 19 yards to contribute 115 yards of total offense to the cause.
Fisher now has accounted for 333 yards of offense - 266 rushing and 67 receiving. His 266 rushing yards are the most by a Packers rookie in 15 years, since Brent Fullwood registered 274 in 1987. Also a standout special teams performer, he has registered 12 tackles as a kamikaze, 10 of them unassisted.
GM/HEAD COACH MIKE SHERMAN'S POST-GAME COMMENTS:
(on his overall assessment of the game) "It was a great crowd. Our team was not flat. We turned the ball over twice and we did not make as many plays as we could have, but the guys hung in there and battled the entire game...they just kept battling."
(on the evolution of Robert Ferguson) "He has accepted his role on the team and he has made an impact on special teams. In the last five weeks, he has certainly made the most of his opportunities. I can't say enough about what he did tonight."
(on keeping the chances for home-field advantage for the playoffs alive) "You have to keep pace with everybody and hopefully somebody will screw up."
(on if the Vikings were headhunting on the final play) " I am not going to comment on that. I'll look at the tape."
(on Tony Fisher's performance) "I can't say enough about him. I thought he did a phenomenal job in the ballgame. He really made some nice runs. I can't think of a mistake he made in the ballgame."
(on how much the team relies on Brett Favre in a game like this) "I think the team relied on itself. Robert Ferguson stepped up and made some big plays and Fisher and Donald Driver stepped up as well. But certainly Favre made some big plays too - the first down run and the second touchdown pass to Ferguson. It was a tremendous effort from Brett on that second touchdown. There aren't many quarterbacks in the NFL that can make that play."
THE PLAYER PERSPECTIVE:
Quarterback Brett Favre: (on being down with five minutes left) "I didn't anticipate being in that situation. Minnesota played extremely well - they put us in that situation...of course we helped out. That situation was do or die, and that was one of our bigger drives of the year."
(on the evolution of Ferguson) "He just finally got an opportunity tonight, and that is what this league is all about. And when you get that chance, you have to make the most of it...he is a great kid; a hard worker; he never complains - and those type of guys you can't help but pull for."
(on if coming from behind so much is burdensome) "It is always great when you come from behind and win, but if anything it makes you age. I don't want to be remembered as the comeback kid. I feel comfortable having the ball in my hands, but I would rather be up because you aren't always going to win those...we somehow pulled it out. It may be one of the greatest games of my career here. I just hope I don't have to go through it too much more."
(on the conversation with Chris Hovan) "I just told him good game and see you next year. I think the whole confrontation shows the competitiveness on both sides. They came here to win this football game. We are always going to get their best. To say there is some bad blood between the teams may be an understatement."
Wide receiver Robert Ferguson: (on his second touchdown) "All I was thinking about was six."
(on making the most of his opportunity) "It has been something I have been concentrating on, to just go out there and make the most of my opportunities - especially tonight."
(on how good it felt to have his number called so often tonight) "Of course. I am a competitor, I want to win and we did that tonight, so it makes it that much more gratifying. At the same time, you always feel good when you come out on the field and play your game."
(on if he has been frustrated about not playing this well earlier in the season) "It is more a learning situation. I just try to make the most of the situation I am in. The more opportunities I get, the more I feel I can make things happen."
Cornerback Tod McBride: (on his performance) "I'm just happy we got the win, that's the bottom line. I prepared just as I do every week, and I gave it my all tonight. I was calm, confident, and just really wanted to go out there and get it done tonight. We wanted it more."
Running back Tony Fisher: (on his performance) "I knew I had to come out and just be productive. I'm not Ahman Green by any means, but I tried to come out and make my contribution. I did what I had to do to help this team get a win."
(on his touchdown) "When I saw the defensive alignment, I knew it was going to be wide open. I knew Will (Henderson) and (Tony Carter) were going to go through pretty much untouched so they left a big hole, and I just went through hard."
(on the confidence he gets from coach) "Everyday these coaches give you more and more to be confident in. Coach Sherman brought me in here for a reason, and now I'm just getting a chance to show it. I feel blessed with my opportunities."
Safety Darren Sharper: (on his interception return) "Every time I get the ball I try to score points, regardless of the situation, I was trying to help our team out in regards to the point differential. I wanted to score."
(on the defense) "We've been stepping up when we need to all year. When it's time for us to step up and it's crunch time, we've seemed to be able to make stands. We'd like to get to the point where we're dominating for all four quarters, of course, but right now we're finding ways to win, and there's nothing wrong with that."
Defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila: (on his fourth quarter forced fumble) "I just hustled until the play was done, I thought I had him twice before I finally made the play, it was all out hustle."
(on his motivation for the game) "Tonight was a way for me to really try to help my teammates, they've been greatly comforting these past few days. It was a good way for me to get back on track, God helped me through these tough times, and so did tonight."
(on the fans support) "That sign (God bless KGB) was inspiring. I don't know of anywhere else where I can get this kind of support, it's an amazing city. I come out here and play for them, and I love to see them supporting me."
-With their 10th victory, the Packers now have won 10 or more games in a season 19 times in their 81-year NFL history - and have posted back-to-back, double-digit victory totals (they won 12 games in '01) for the first time since 1997-98, when they registered consecutive 13- and 11-victory seasons.
-Sunday night's success squared the Packers' series record against the Vikings. Each team has now won 41 of their 83 meetings and there has been one tie, a 10-10 standoff in 1978.
-Including playoffs, the Packers are 27-2 at home in December and January since 1992.
-Defensively, the Green and Gold have permitted opponents to convert only 31.0 percent of third downs, the league's best mark.
-The Packers' 21 interceptions are second in the NFL behind Tampa Bay's 24. Opposing passers have compiled a 66.5 rating, second lowest in the league behind the Buccaneers.
-They now have registered a takeaway in 22 consecutive games and have posted 13 inside their own 20-yard line thus far.
-Cletidus Hunt's block of a Gary Anderson extra point in the third quarter was the first by a Packer since Nov. 29, 1998, when defensive end Vaughn Booker turned the trick against the Philadelphia Eagles. Hunt, who batted down a Daunte Culpepper pass at the line of scrimmage, also was credited with one pass defensed.
-Brett Favre officially went over the 3,000 mark in passing yardage for the 11th consecutive year in the second quarter Sunday on a 4-yard toss to running back Jay Graham, making his first catch in his first game appearance as a Packer.
-Tyrone Williams was inactive for the first time in his seven-year NFL career, ending his playing streak of 108 consecutive games, second on the Packers roster only to Brett Favre's 172-game skein.
It is the third major games-played streak to have been ended this season, William Henderson and Darren Sharper having seen 114 and 78-game skeins, respectively, terminated by injury.
Quarterback Brett Favre, meanwhile, maintained his 172-game streak after being forced to leave the Packers' game against Washington, Oct. 20.
Overall, injuries have forced starters from 14 of the 22 positions (52 combined starts missed).
-With Tod McBride starting for Tyrone Williams, rookie safety Marques Anderson was on the field in the team's "dime" package throughout the game.
-Donald Driver's 17-yard reverse to the Vikings' 15-yard line late in the second quarter set up Longwell's second field goal of the game, a 19-yarder.
-Driver sat out a portion of the game. Following a second quarter elbow injury, he was taken to the locker room for a more extensive examination. The x-rays proved negative and he returned to action in the third quarter.
-Darren Sharper's interception, his sixth of the season, was the Packers' 21st of the year, bettering last season's 16-game total of 20 with three games remaining in the season.
-The Packers opened the game with a two-tight end alignment, Tyrone Davis replacing fullback William Henderson.
-Defensively, the Packers opened with Antuan Edwards and Matt Bowen replacing Hardy Nickerson and Nate Wayne.
-Tod McBride led the defense with 11 tackles, 9 of them unassisted.
-Packers captains for Sunday's games included Frank Winters and Brett Favre (offense), Mike McKenzie (defense) and Josh Bidwell (special teams).
-Packers inactives included running back Ahman Green, cornerback Tyrone Williams, linebacker Marcus Wilkins, guard/tackle Alcender Jackson, wide receiver Terry Glenn, nose tackle Gilbert Brown, defensive end Jamal Reynolds and designated Third Quarterback Craig Nall.
-The two-point conversion attempt against the Vikings was the Packers' first since Oct. 21, 2001, at Minnesota.