NFL Nation: Vikings-Packers 110109

Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire
Brett Favre and Minnesota are in control in the NFC North after sweeping Green Bay.
Posted by’s Kevin Seifert

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.
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“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.

You’ve probably heard, once or twice, that Favre played 16 years in Green Bay. Trust me when I tell you he took special satisfaction in beating the Packers for the second time this season. But to me, it’s important to focus on the bigger point as well: Not only has Favre put the Vikings (7-1) exactly where they hoped to be, but he has left the Packers (4-3) precisely in the place they have most feared: Below him in the standings.

“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.”
Posted by’s Kevin Seifert

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- With half of its schedule complete, I would say Minnesota has put itself in a nicely padded and comfortable driver’s seat in the NFC North race.

Brett Favre departed Lambeau Field triumphantly on Sunday, throwing a season-high four touchdown passes against his former team. The Favre-Packers storyline made for a fun sidelight, but in the big picture here’s what you need to know: Entering their bye week, the Vikings have opened up a 2.5 game lead over Green Bay and Chicago in the NFC North.

They’ve swept the Packers, thanks in large part to Favre’s seven touchdown passes against them this season. That means the Packers will have to win three more games than the Vikings do for the rest of the season in order to overtake them for a division title.

The Bears are actually in better position. They have both games left against the Vikings, giving them a better ability to control their own destiny.

I’ll be back with more on and from Favre, who led a key touchdown drive to put the game away in the fourth quarter. But for now, let’s all agree Minnesota is in pretty good position from a Black and Blue perspective.

Back and forth we go

November, 1, 2009
Posted by’s Kevin Seifert

GREEN BAY, WIS. -- I’m thinking that Green Bay won’t be kicking to Percy Harvin for the rest of the afternoon, and possibly ever.

Harvin’s 48-yard kickoff return, noted in the previous post, set up Minnesota for another score in what is now a 31-20 game. The Vikings only had to go 38 yards and capped its brief drive with Brett Favre’s 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jeff Dugan.

The Packers have the firepower to keep this game interesting. But if they score again, here’s a suggestion: Squib the kickoff.
Posted by’s Kevin Seifert

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’s Kevin Seifert

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- This is the kind of day it is for Minnesota, Green Bay and Brett Favre: Even when Favre makes one of his trademark “Why-did-you-do-that?” throws, it works out well for the Vikings.

Favre targeted receiver Percy Harvin when three Packers defenders -- Charles Woodson, Atari Bigby and Nick Collins -- were around him. The throw was also behind Harvin, but he made a spectacular catch at the Packers’ 21-yard line, reversed field as all three Packers players collided, and turned the play into a 51-yard scoring strike.

Some football people might suggest Favre intentionally threw a “back-shoulder” pass to Harvin, where no defender could reach the ball. Regardless, Harvin still had to make an exceptional catch and play to make Favre look good.

The good news for the Packers is that they have plenty of time to catch up. The bad news is they’ve shown little ability to do so Sunday, and they have tried unsuccessfully to run on two of their first three plays after falling behind 24-3.
Posted by’s Kevin Seifert

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Don’t get me wrong. Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre has played well here in the first half of his return to Lambeau Field. But if I were to make a list of why the Vikings hold a 17-3 lead at halftime, I would put at least two factors ahead of him. Here are my observations:
  • We discussed the Vikings’ special teams over the weekend, and the reality is both of their touchdown drives were set up by excellent returns. Percy Harvin set them up at the 14-yard line after a 77-yard kickoff return, and Jaymar Johnson’s 20-yard punt return gave them field position at their own 49-yard line on the second scoring drive.
  • There has been a combination of strong pass rush from the Vikings and another bout of holding the ball too long for Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. The Vikings had a total of four sacks in the first half, and I blame two on Rodgers. Both were plays when defensive end Ray Edwards chased him down from the far side of the field. On the other two, Vikings defensive end Jared Allen blew past Packers left tackle T.J. Lang, and nose tackle Pat Williams threw aside Packers center Scott Wells.
  • The bottom line is the Packers finished the half with 46 yards, five punts and three first downs. Frankly, the Packers are fortunate to trail only by two touchdowns. Minnesota’s botched shotgun snap gave the Packers possession at their 21-yard line, leading to their only score – a 37-yard field goal by Mason Crosby. The Vikings also had an unsuccessful fourth-down attempt deep in Packers territory during the second quarter.
  • Adrian Peterson’s 33-yard run in the second quarter was a pretty good demonstration of the difference between these teams, at least today. Packers safety Nick Collins, one of two Packers players who missed tackles on the play, looked like he wanted no part of Peterson in the open field.
  • As for Favre, he’s having the kind of productive and mistake-free game that has characterized his performances this season. He’s completed 11 of 15 passes for 97 yards and a touchdown. From my vantage point, I’ve seen no emotional displays to suggest his return to Lambeau Field has had any effect on him.

All Drive for Peterson

November, 1, 2009
Posted by’s Kevin Seifert

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A few of you might have questioned Minnesota’s decision not emphasize Adrian Peterson near the goal line last week in Pittsburgh. The Vikings just addressed that issue here at Lambeau Field.

After Percy Harvin’s 77-yard kickoff return set the Vikings up at Green Bay’s 14-yard line, the Vikings gave it to Peterson on six of their seven offensive plays. Peterson had to work for it, but he finally scored on a fourth-down plunge to give the Vikings a 7-3 lead.

We noted the first mistake of the game in the previous blog. Here’s the second: Green Bay defensive tackle Johnny Jolly’s inexcusable head-butt of Chester Taylor on a failed third-down pass. The Vikings were prepared to attempt a field goal before Jolly’s penalty gave them a first down.

Shaky start for Rodgers

November, 1, 2009
Posted by’s Kevin Seifert

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- This has hardly been the start Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers was hoping for.

Rodgers has completed three of his first seven passes and has held the ball far too long on a pair of third down plays. On the first play, Rodgers’ delay in throwing the ball allowed Minnesota left end Ray Edwards to hit his arm during the throw and force an incompletion. On the second, Rodgers held it so long on a scramble to the left side that Edwards chased him down from the far sideline for a sack.

The Packers were still able to convert Mason Crosby’s 37-yard field goal, but Rodgers isn’t going to get away with holding the ball that way against the Vikings’ pass rush.

By the way, I’m still trying to figure out what happened on the botched shotgun snap between Vikings center John Sullivan and quarterback Brett Favre. Something happened to make Sullivan think Favre was ready for the snap, but as you could tell on the replay, Favre was still making line calls and never saw it coming. First big mistake of the game.
Posted by’s Kevin Seifert

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Hopefully now we can just play football.

The crowd at Lambeau Field gave Brett Favre a pretty loud reception when he jogged off the field after pregame warm-ups, flanked by two team security guards. The same thing happened when he returned to the field for the kickoff, and when he jogged onto the field for Minnesota’s first series. There were far more boos than cheers on each occasion, but I wouldn’t characterize any of it as excessive.

(Aaron Rodgers got a thunderous ovation during pregame introductions, by the way.)

Both teams punted after their first possessions, and now we’ve settled into a regular, intense, division rivalry game. We’ll begin covering it that way, starting … now.
Posted by’s Kevin Seifert

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Well, that was one of the more anticlimactic moments in NFL history.

Brett Favre jogged onto the field here at precisely 3:29 p.m. ET Sunday. Lambeau Field was about half full at the time, and the boos certainly outnumbered the cheers. But I would hardly call the reaction thunderous in either event.

There has been a lot of talk about what the moment would be like. In the end, it was hardly a moment at all. Perhaps things will heat up once the stadium fills out and the game actually starts.

Perhaps surprised by the relative lack of reaction, Favre simply jogged down the right sideline and started warming up with quarterbacks coach Kevin Rogers. Funny moment: Favre started throwing parallel to a sign that read: “Welcome back to Lambeau Field …. Brent.”

Illustrating the split nature of this crowd, a few feet down another sign read: “Favre fan 4 life.”
Posted by’s Kevin Seifert

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Minnesota receiver Bernard Berrian will play, Green Bay tight end Jermichael Finley will not, and if the Packers are planning a change at left tackle, they haven’t let on yet.

That’s the upshot of the inactive lists just distributed here in the press box. Berrian (hamstring) must have passed his tests during warmups. There was little doubt that Finley (knee) would play. And left tackle Chad Clifton is active, and the only lineup change the Packers announced was that center Scott Wells would start in place of Jason Spitz, who is inactive because of a back injury.

Clifton is the Packers’ default starter, so I’m assuming he will get the nod over rookie T.J. Lang. That’s a mild surprise, but we’ll see how it plays out.

For Minnesota, the only surprise deactivation is fullback Naufahu Tahi. Receiver Percy Harvin (shoulder, illness) is active.
Posted by’s Kevin Seifert

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- ESPN’s Ed Werder spent an hour with Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre at the team hotel Saturday night. Some highlights of their conversation:
  • Favre revealed he has been taking antibiotics for much of the past three weeks because of a sinus infection. He felt badly Friday but had improved some on Sunday.
  • Only two members of Favre’s family are scheduled to attend this game: His wife, Deanna, and her sister.
  • Werder relayed the news that a disgruntled fan sent all of his Favre memorabilia to the Vikings’ equipment room and suggested selling it online because it no longer had any sentimental value. Favre laughed at the gesture, Werder reported, and said: “Like that bothers me.”

By the way, Favre arrived at Lambeau Field a few moments ago. He waved at a group of fans standing outside the gate near the players’ entrance.

The scene at Lambeau

November, 1, 2009
Posted by’s Kevin Seifert

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It didn’t take long for me to find my favorite message as I made my way to Lambeau Field. It was on the marquee of the Ridge Road Plaza, and I was unsuccessful in my amateur attempts to take a photo as I drove past. Trust me, though. Here’s what it said:

 Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire
 Brett Favre called Lambeau home for 16 seasons.

I suppose it’s possible Longwell was big at the Ridge Road Plaza during the nine seasons he kicked for the Packers. But it’s been three years since he signed with the Vikings, and I interpreted the sign to be a sarcastic overlook of Brett Favre’s return to Lambeau.

Upon arriving here myself, the first thing I noticed was this solid but predictable publicity stunt: Some local company hired a plane to carry this message around the field: “Retire 4 Good.” The “4” was in purple. If anything, I was surprised at how many Vikings fans and/or purple jerseys I saw in the parking lots. I’m assuming the locals are still filling up at their local watering holes.

It’s a beautiful day in northeast Wisconsin. There are only a few wispy clouds in the sky, and the temperature is hovering around 50 degrees. I’ll keep you updated as the day continues. Photos to come.


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