If there has been one significant difference between the 2009 Vikings and the 2010 Vikings, it has been in the offense keeping control of the ball and not allowing costly turnovers. In 16 games last year, Brett Favre threw just seven interceptions in 531 passes – by far the best percentage of his career. In 2010, Favre has just 179 pass attempts, but 10 of them have them have been picked off. Three of them came Sunday night in the Vikings' 28-24 loss to the Packers and they became the turning point of the game.
The Vikings led 17-14 at halftime thanks in part to not turning the ball over to the Packers. That would change early in the third quarter. Green Bay started the second half with the ball, but, for the first time in the game, the Vikings got the Packers offense off the field in a three-and-out. With a strong start to the second half, the Vikings could put some distance between themselves and the Pack and take control of the game.
Instead, Favre was hit by linebacker Brad Jones (re-injuring his ankle in the process) and his pass was intercepted by A.J. Hawk, who returned the pick 21 yards to the Vikings 41-yard line. Aaron Rodgers took advantage of the turnover, taking just five plays to convert the turnover into seven points, giving the Packers the lead to stay at 21-17.
"It goes back to taking care of the football. You can't throw it to them," Vikings coach Brad Childress said. "You have to play within the confines of our system. Sometimes it is okay to punt the football. You can't have seven points going the other way, not in a game like this with a high-powered team."
With the Vikings still reeling from the last interception, Favre's next pass was even more disastrous. Instead of seeing Percy Harvin open on the right side of the field, Favre looked to hit Randy Moss on a slant pass, Moss cut off of his route and the pass hit linebacker Desmond Bishop in between the "5's" on his jersey and he was off to the races – taking the interception back 32 yards for a touchdown and a 28-17 Packers lead.
"I'd have to look at that one to know where we're going with the football because I believe the play was designed to go to the other side and I think Percy's standing there in big air," Childress said. "I'm not sure why we're looking at the left-hand side and I can't remember back to where the other one was."
Favre said that he could see from the pictures on the sidelines after the game that Harvin was open, but that's hindsight that isn't available on the field.
"When I looked at the picture on the sideline, Percy was wide open so I can't disagree with (Childress)," Favre said. "But from my vantage point, you pick a side on certain plays. I wish I knew where everybody was going to be wide open; it sure would make my reads a lot easier, but I sure can't disagree with it."
Two passes. Two picks. It turned a four-point lead into an 11-point deficit in the span of less than four-and-a-half minutes of game time. But the interception bug wasn't done biting the Vikings.
Following the pick-six by Bishop, the Vikings marched right back to cut the deficit to 28-24 with 4:12 to play in the third quarter. After running a time-consuming 6-minute, 2-second drive to get to the Packers 35-yard line, Favre went gunning for Percy Harvin over the middle, but his pass was picked off by Nick Collins at the Green Bay 20-yard line. The Packers wouldn't score on the ensuing drive, but got the clock down to six minutes and Green Bay punted, leaving the Vikings a long way to go (83 yards) and a short time to get there (6:07). As it turned out, it was too far for another Favre miracle fourth-quarter comeback.
For much of the game – both early and late – the Vikings did what was needed to win. But, as has plagued them against teams like the Saints, Dolphins and Jets, critical Favre interceptions turned potential wins into losses.
While the loss doesn't kill the Vikings' chances of making the postseason, it puts them back into the hole they have been trying to climb out of all season. Sunday night, they didn't have the late-game heroics to pull it out, creating their unfortunate turning point.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
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