Two Kickoff Returns Loom Large In Defeat

The Packers had done a good job of preventing many explosive kickoff returns in the first six games this season, but on Sunday, Vikings rookie wide receiver Percy Harvin picked up big yardage on two returns that loomed large in the final outcome. - More Packers-Vikings Game Center

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The Packers had done a good job of preventing many explosive kickoff returns in the first six games this season, but on Sunday, Vikings rookie wide receiver Percy Harvin picked up big yardage on two returns that loomed large in the final outcome.

Entering the game against Minnesota, Green Bay had allowed its opponents an average of just 21.6 yards on 28 kickoff returns, good for the No. 9 ranking in the league. Only two times had the Packers allowed a 40-plus yard return, a 42-yarder from Rams wide receiver Danny Amendola in Week 3, and a 41-yarder last Sunday at Cleveland by wide receiver Joshua Cribbs.

But on Sunday, the Packers were facing the No. 1 kickoff return man in the league in Harvin (29.8 avg.), who was coming off of an 88-yard kickoff return for a touchdown last Sunday at Pittsburgh, his second kickoff return score of the year to become the first player in Vikings history to post two kickoff return touchdowns in the same season.

Even though the Packers had done a good job of keeping Harvin in check in the Week 4 meeting with just a 17.3-yard average on three returns, Harvin carried that success from last week over to Sunday's contest at Lambeau Field, posting a 35.0-yard average on five returns, including two runbacks for 77 and 48 yards.

"Field position was rough all day," cornerback Charles Woodson said. "Special teams, Harvin has proven to be a pretty good return guy, a pretty good player all around, and he gave them great field position all day.

"We got momentum at times and then to take it right back on the kickoff return hurts a team. Now you're working with a short field. We've just got to play better. There isn't a whole lot you can say about it."

After the Packers offense got on the board first Sunday afternoon on kicker Mason Crosby's 37-yard field goal with just over five minutes remaining in the first quarter, Harvin got his hands on the ball for the first time and made an immediate impact.

Fielding Crosby's kick on the right hash mark at the Vikings 9, Harvin took it straight down the field, making a move to elude Crosby at the 40 before finally being brought down by fullback John Kuhn at the Green Bay 12, a 77-yard return.

The return was the longest allowed by the Packers since Bears cornerback Jerry Azumah posted an 88-yard kickoff return for a score on Dec. 7, 2003, at Lambeau Field, and the Vikings utilized the field position to take the lead.

On third-and-5 at the 9, linebacker Nick Barnett brought down running back Chester Taylor on a reception in the right flat for a 5-yard loss, but defensive end Johnny Jolly was flagged for a personal foul for head-butting Taylor after the play and the Vikings got the automatic first down. Running back Adrian Peterson scored up the middle on fourth down from the 1 to give Minnesota the 7-3 lead.

After Harvin returned the opening kickoff of the second half 24 yards out to the 37, the Packers elected to go with a different strategy, squibbing the next kickoff midway through the third quarter with Green Bay trailing 24-6. Defensive end Brian Robison scooped up the kick at the Minnesota 34, but linebacker A.J. Hawk forced a fumble and safety Nick Collins dove on the ball at the Vikings 41, providing a short field for Green Bay's offense as they looked to get back into the game.

"We just were trying to change it up," Crosby said. "You've got to continually change things. It was one of those where we felt good with how we were kind of adjusting some things."

The Packers made the most of the short field, capping off a five-play drive with a touchdown pass from quarterback Aaron Rodgers to tight end Spencer Havner to narrow the deficit to 24-13.

Following the touchdown, Green Bay elected to squib the kick again, and even though Harvin ran up to field the ball, his return only went for 12 yards out to the Minnesota 33 before he was brought down by linebacker Brady Poppinga.

{sportsad300}After another touchdown pass from Rodgers to Havner put the score at 24-20, the Packers kicked the ball deep to Harvin, and he made them pay once more.

Harvin fielded Crosby's kick on near the left sideline at the 14, and eluded tacklers once again as he took it across the field and then down the right sideline for a 48-yard return before being pushed out of bounds by cornerback Tramon Williams at the Green Bay 38. Head Coach Mike McCarthy said after the game that the plan was not to kick to Harvin again.

"That's part of the game," McCarthy said. "Frankly, the ball was supposed to be on the ground on that particular kick. Mason slipped on the kick and the ball was hit the way it was hit."

Once again, the Vikings took advantage of the short field, going 38 yards on seven plays with quarterback Brett Favre finding tight end Jeff Dugan on a 2-yard touchdown pass to extend the lead to 31-20.

"Obviously it tilts the field a little bit," linebacker Aaron Kampman said. "You're playing uphill a little bit more, but we've got to find a way to overcome that. That's no excuse. Our job is to keep them out of the end zone or keep points off the board, and we weren't able to do that."

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