NFC North: Vikings-Packers
|Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire|
|Brett Favre and Minnesota are in control in the NFC North after sweeping Green Bay.|
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- If it were up to Brett Favre -- and these days, I’m pretty sure everything is -- fans departing Lambeau Field late Sunday would have had one collective thought.
“I hope that everyone in the stadium watching tonight said, ‘I sure hate that that joker is on the other side, but he does play the way he’s always played,’” he said.
Favre’s renaissance was never more apparent than Sunday, when he took control of a seesaw game at precisely the moment the Minnesota Vikings needed him most in an eventual 38-26 victory over the Green Bay Packers.
A 23-7 run had allowed the Packers to pull within 31-26. The clock showed 5 minutes and 38 seconds remaining in the game, and it was time for someone to grab the moment and for someone else to slink back.
On that count, Favre again proved there is no one better. He pushed the Vikings into the end zone in four plays, the last a 16-yard scoring strike to receiver Bernard Berrian on third-and-11. The touchdown pass, Favre’s fourth of the day, put away the Packers as only a seasoned winner can do, putting an exclamation point on Favre’s return to Lambeau and providing further documentation of his impact on the Vikings.
“The largest storyline was who was going to be in first place in the NFC North,” said Packers defensive end Aaron Kampman.
Favre has almost single-handedly eliminated his former team from that race. In two games against them, he completed 69 percent of his passes for seven touchdowns. He was neither intercepted nor sacked. Sunday, he was two steps ahead at every turn.
“We tried to put pressure on them with blitzes,” Packers cornerback Charles Woodson said. “And he either pointed them out and set the protection the right way, or threw the ball quick and we weren’t able to get to him. We felt like we had enough things called -- and still we can’t get to him for whatever reason. Right now we can’t win the big game.”
There’s little doubt Favre is in the Packers’ heads. They know he has fallen prey to his emotions before, and they hoped a raucous Lambeau crowd -- combined with more pressure -- would jar him into some early mistakes. Instead, the opposite occurred. The Packers choked in the early going, falling behind 14-3 early in the second quarter and taking more sacks (four) than first downs (three) into the halftime locker room.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers escaped the pocket a few times in the second half, the biggest reason why the Packers offense briefly sprung to life. But on this night, he was no match for a rival who was too focused to let the opportunity fall away.
“I can’t tell you how many text messages I’ve gotten from guys just in passing today and yesterday,” Favre said. “’Hey, you’re going to play great. I know you’re nervous.’ I’m like, ‘Easy for you to say.’ But they were right again. I don’t know. It’s awful stressful to feel that way every week. I’d like to feel a little more relaxed. But I’m also pleased with the way I’ve played in these games.”
I suppose it’s possible the Vikings would have won Sunday with one of their other quarterbacks, Tarvaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels. The Vikings hadn’t won here in the Brad Childress era, so I’m dubious of that possibility. Regardless, there’s no one I’d rather have right now, with 5:38 remaining and the game in the balance, than Favre. And here’s one thing I am sure of: If Favre were not with the Vikings, there is no way there would be a 2.5-game difference between the teams in the standings.
Perhaps that’s why Vikings placekicker Ryan Longwell, 35, mobbed Favre, 40, after the final gun. Longwell, who kicked for Green Bay for nine seasons, knew how special and unique Favre’s accomplishment is.
“Unless you play here and have gone through it you just don’t know,” Longwell said. “It goes beyond just winning. It’s a special victory.”
Favre said his emotions began rising Sunday morning near the end of a 30-minute bus ride from the team hotel to Lambeau Field. He saw “a few fingers” as the bus pulled into the parking lot, he joked, but there was never a time when I thought Favre was close to letting the crowd get the best of him.
He celebrated heartily after tight end Visanthe Shiancoe’s 12-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter, and at one point he appeared to be jawing with Packers defensive end Cullen Jenkins. Otherwise, however, Favre remained stoic. After the game, he spent several minutes embracing former teammates -- Rodgers, Donald Driver and Al Harris among them -- and said he was had no intentions to throw any “daggers.”
|AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps|
|Some fans had mixed feelings about Brett Favre's return to Green Bay.|
“I’d like to think I always handle myself with class,” he said. “It’s always tougher when you lose. I understand that. Never been one to rub it in anyone’s face. Guys I’ve played with as a Packer, I’ve got a lot of respect for. As I do this organization and these fans.”
So where does this leave us? For the first time that I can remember, Favre used the words “Super Bowl” in talking about the Vikings’ prospects this season. Up until Sunday, Favre had been saying he hopes to get the team “where we want to be.”
With a 7-1 performance in the first half of the season, the Vikings have pushed themselves onto the short list of favorites for this year’s championship.
“I want to lead this Viking team to the Super Bowl,” Favre said. “Believe me. I do. I’m going to do everything in my power. … At this point, we’ve put ourselves in a good position.”
They wouldn’t be there, of course, were it not for two victories over his former team. And the Vikings would not have swept the Packers without him.
“Am I pleased with the way these two games have turned out?” Favre said. “Yes, absolutely. I knew I could play. My arm feels great. My arm is in a good place. The team has welcomed me in. All the other stuff doesn’t matter. It makes a good story. I know it. [But] I’m glad it’s over. I’m glad we won them both.”
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Let’s see if Brian Robison's special teams error for Minnesota will turn this game around.
Robison, a Vikings defensive end, fielded a squib kick and began returning it rather than simply falling to the ground. Green Bay’s Desmond Bishop forced a fumble, and Nick Collins recovered it at the Vikings’ 41-yard line. Five plays later, the Packers pulled with 24-13 on a 16-yard touchdown pass to tight end Spencer Havner.
(Second score in two weeks for Havner, a converted linebacker.)
The Packers still have a long way to go. But for the first time since the first quarter, there is some life at Lambeau Field.
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert
|Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire|
|Tavaris Jackson finished 16-of-35 for 178 yards with a touchdown and an interception.|
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- In his first NFL start Monday night, Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers completed 82 percent of his passes, accounted for two touchdowns and executed a perfect Lambeau leap.
Meanwhile, in his 15th career start, Minnesota's Tarvaris Jackson misfired on more passes (19) than he completed (16). He scrambled for a career-high 65 yards but refused to slide after any of his nine carries, inexplicably lowering his shoulder and recklessly risking injury three weeks after spraining his knee in the exact same situation. With the game on the line, it was Jackson -- not the less experienced Rodgers -- who threw a pass 10 feet over his receiver's head for an easy interception.
There are some occasions when it's simply too easy to trace a team's fortunes to its quarterback. You could, in fact, make a reasonable argument that the Packers' three biggest plays of a 24-19 victory were all executed by someone other than Rodgers. Receiver Greg Jennings snatched a 56-yard jump ball away from cornerback Charles Gordon, Will Blackmon returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown and tailback Ryan Grant set up the game-clinching score with a 57-yard run.
From the Vikings' perspective, however, it's hard to envision how they will move forward until Jackson refines his game considerably.
It's one thing if a rookie quarterback gets his feet tangled, loses his technique and misfires on a pass. It's another when it happens to a player entering his third season in the NFL and has been entrusted to lead a veteran team with enough talent to make a deep playoff run.
Yet, that's exactly what happened Monday night to Jackson. After admirably leading an 80-yard drive to close the Packers' lead to five points, Jackson regained possession at his 31-yard line with 1:51 remaining. He moved the Vikings to their 45-yard line and still had 1:08 remaining when he spotted tight end Visanthe Shiancoe at the Packers' 45.
Jackson's pass was so high, however, that the assembled media felt obligated to ask him whether it was intended for Shiancoe or receiver Bobby Wade -- who was running a go-route 15 yards further downfield. The ball settled in between the two receivers, where Packers safety Atari Bigby grabbed it for a game-clinching interception.
"I need to check my mechanics on film to see if my footwork was messed up," Jackson said. "I can't throw it that way. That cost us a chance to win the football game."
The big buzzword in the Vikings' locker room was "consistency," a theme generated by coach Brad Childress during his postgame address.
Monday night, Jackson managed just 16 yards in the first half before piling up 162 while playing catch-up in the second.
Speaking to reporters, Childress said: "We need to be able to throw the ball a little bit better. I thought we threw it around a little better in the second half, but again you want to be consistent. You don't just want a half where you throw the ball and a half where you have 16 yards."
To be blunt, a team's consistency starts with the quarterback. Jackson is at the point in his career timeline where he should be able to put four solid quarters together against a division rival. Unfortunately, Jackson is still stuck in remedial studies.
Beyond his potential footwork lapse on the final interception, Jackson is still trying to convince himself to slide at the end of his runs. A slide doesn't simply prevent injuries; it helps a quarterback keep a clear head at a time when he needs all of his mental faculties to call and execute plays.
Even the most agile quarterbacks in NFL history learned quickly to avoid direct hits, but Monday night Jackson wouldn't do it and couldn't explain why.
"I've got to do a better job of that." Jackson said. "I guess getting hurt didn't really teach me a lesson. I've got to do a better job, point-blank."
Lowering his shoulder a few times and throwing one interception didn't cost the Vikings the game Monday night. But the quarterback sets the tone for the entire team, and it didn't take someone with a deep knowledge of football to note the Vikings played well for most of the game but had enough lapses -- most notably on the aforementioned three big plays -- to lose.
Who is to say that Rodgers' ultra-efficient performance didn't permeate the Packers? Yes, Green Bay had 12 penalties and couldn't move the ball in the second half (84 yards after halftime), but it did not commit a turnover and ultimately was the calmer team in the fourth quarter.
The Vikings could stake no such claim. Jackson has teased people with his arm strength and running ability during his career. But with his third season under way, it's time for the tease to become a rock.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- We have an answer. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson acknowledged Monday night that it was no accident he ran over the player responsible for his right knee injury last season.
As we noted earlier, Peterson ran over Packers cornerback Al Harris in the first quarter of Green Bay's 24-19 victory. Harris, of course, was the player whose low -- but clean -- hit on Peterson resulted in a torn lateral collateral ligament in the teams' 2007 matchup at Lambeau Field.
"No grudges," Peterson said. "But I definitely wanted to come out and, if I had the opportunity, put a little boom on Harris."
Peterson finished with 103 yards on 19 carries, the seventh 100-yard game of his career.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The evidence was there for everyone to see. The Green Bay Packers were the best team on the field for almost all of Monday night, establishing themselves as the class of the NFC North in a 24-19 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was the most proficient of the teams' young quarterbacks, completing more than 80 percent of his passes in his first NFL start while the Vikings' Tarvaris Jackson completed under 50 percent.
While the Vikings struggled to find a rhythm, Green Bay made big plays in all three phases of the game. On offense, they set up their touchdowns with a 56-yard pass to Greg Jennings and a 57-yard run by Ryan Grant. Will Blackmon contributed a big play on special teams, returning a punt 76 yards for a touchdown, And on defense, safety Atari Bigby's ending the game by intercepting of Jackson.
The Packers were far from perfect but in a game that supposedly matched the top two teams in the NFC North -- apologies, Bears fans -- the game was not as close as the score indicated. For one week, at least, the post-Brett Favre Packers are still the best team in the division.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Things are starting to get interesting here at Lambeau Field. Minnesota quarterback Tarvaris Jackson missed an opportunity at the beginning of the fourth quarter to pull the Vikings within three points. As it stands, Green Bay leads 17-12 with 14:12 remaining.
The teams scored two quick touchdowns, the first coming when the Packers Tramon Williams returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown. Jackson brought the Vikings back down the field and threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Sidney Rice on a gutsy fourth-and-one call from coach Brad Childress.
Childress rightly called for a 2-point conversion, but Jackson's pass was behind a wide-open Rice in the end zone. That left the Packers with a four-point lead.
We're bowing out to start working on what we like to call "Rapid Reaction", an entry we will post immediately after the game. Look for an extended post after I get back upstairs from the locker rooms.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Vikings are down to their third left tackle.
Starter Bryant McKinnie is suspended for the next four games after violating the NFL's personal-conduct policy. Replacement Artis Hicks left in the third quarter because of an injury that has not yet been announced.
That leaves Marcus Johnson playing left tackle for what I believe is the first time in his career. Johnson has alternated between right guard and right tackle during his career.
UPDATED: Hicks is out with an elbow injury.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Packers' rebuilt offensive line is having a tough night with the yellow flag.
When stand-in right guard Tony Moll got called for his third penalty of the night, it was a big one. Because he was standing past the line of scrimmage -- we have no idea why -- Moll nullified Aaron Rodgers' beautiful 68-yard touchdown pass to Donald Driver.
The play would have given the Packers a 17-6 lead midway through the third quarter. Instead, Green Bay wound up punting three plays later.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- New Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is making a good impression in his first NFL start, but it will be interesting to see if a decision by his head coach will come back to haunt the team.
Rodgers completed 12 of 16 passes for 139 yards in the first half tonight against the Vikings while also scrambling four times for 35 yards. He was running an excellent two-minute drill at the end of the half and seemed to have the Packers in position for their third score before the drive bogged down at the 16-yard line.
Following Packers coach Mike McCarthy allowed the clock to run from about 20 seconds to three before a third-down play at the Vikings' 15-yard line. Had he called an immediate timeout, the Packers would have had time to take at least one shot into the end zone.
Instead, McCarthy settled for a 42-yard field goal attempt. Mason Crosby's kick was so low it grazed the hand of Vikings cornerback Cedric Griffin and did not advance beyond the line of scrimmage. The block left the Packers hanging on to a 10-3 lead at halftime.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Vikings signed receiver Bernard Berrian in free agency to give them a vertical threat that would open up running lanes for tailback Adrian Peterson. If Berrian were established as a legitimate deep threat, the theory went, opponents wouldn't be able to stack eight or nine players on the line of scrimmage to stop Peterson.
The Vikings are doing their best to utilize Berrian in tonight's season opener, but thus far it hasn't been successful. Quarterback Tarvaris Jackson didn't complete any of the three deep passes he threw Berrian's way in the first half, although officials flagged Packers cornerback Al Harris for a 26-yard pass interference on one of them. Jackson underthrew Berrian on another and Harris got away with a physical play on the third.
Pass interferences and near-misses won't cause any defense to alter its approach. Until Jackson shows he can hit Berrian in stride for a few downfield plays, Peterson will continue to face stacked defenses.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Vikings gave the Packers seven -- yes, SEVEN -- chances to score starting with a first-and-goal at the six-yard line.
Three penalties -- encroachment by Jared Allen, a hold by Vinny Ciurciu and an offsides call on Ben Leber -- extended the Packers' drive. Finally, on third-and-goal from the 1-yard line, Aaron Rodgers hit fullback Korey Hall for a score to give the Packers a 7-3 lead with 10:07 left in the second quarter.
No defense, no matter how good it is, can give an opponent that many chances.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- We'll have to wait until after the game to find out if Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson realized he was squared up with Packers cornerback Al Harris on the first play of the Vikings' second possession Monday night. Intentional or not, Peterson exacted a bit of revenge.
Peterson turned the left corner and saw Harris waiting for him at the Vikings' 41-yard line. Lowering his right shoulder, Peterson ran over Harris and left the Packers cornerback on his back while finishing an 11-yard run.
Last season at Lambeau Field, of course, Harris' low tackle left Peterson with a torn lateral collateral ligament. Peterson missed two games amid rumors that Packers had created an informal pot of cash to distribute if Peterson finished the game with less than 100 yards.
Early in tonight's game, Peterson is running like a man who won't be denied 100 yards. He followed the crushing blow on Harris with a 34-yard run to the right side. Peterson, in fact, single-handedly set up the Vikings for the first score of the game, a 37-yard Ryan Longwell field goal with 13 minutes, 35 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
Jackson scrambled twice for eight yards on the Vikings' first possession, including a seven-yard scramble to convert a third-and-six. Aaron Kampman's sack ended the drive, but Jackson had no chance on a stunt play that allowed Kampman free access up the middle of the Vikings' offensive line.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Holding penalty. Fumbled snap. Aborted screen play. (With a declined illegal formation play.)
So went the final three plays of the Green Bay Packers' opening possession Monday night. It wasn't the crispest of starts, but we learned one thing: quarterback Aaron Rodgers can take a hit. On the aborted screen, Minnesota Vikings defensive end Ray Edwards drilled him in the back and drove him into the turf.
It was about the closest you can come to a roughing penalty without calling it, but Rodgers popped right up and was in the face of several officials, asking for a penalty.