Anything goes in a division rivalry game, and turnabout proved to be just what the Vikings needed Sunday in a 23-20 win over the Green Bay Packers.
The Vikings lost both 2004 regular-season matchups with the Packers last year by 34-31 scores, both coming on field goals by Ryan Longwell with no time remaining.
Sunday, the Vikings used a career- and franchise-long 56-yard field goal by Paul Edinger with no time remaining to beat their fiercest rival, 23-20.
Minnesota trailed 17-0 at halftime, but a second-half surge by the Vikings offense, defense and special teams may have saved their season.
After throwing for only 69 total net yards in the first half and giving up 254, the Vikings’ second-half comeback came in the passing game on both sides of the ball. They allowed only 120 yards passing on defense, with a change in philosophy leading the way. The offense started to move the ball more consistently, and the special teams set up the game-winning drive with a 25-yard kick return and capped it with Edinger’s 56-yard kick with no time left on the clock.
The Vikings defense came out in its new 3-4 alignment and did the job on the first two Green Bay drives, limiting Ahman Green to 12 yards on five carries and holding Packers QB Brett Favre in check enough to force a 53-yard field goal attempt by Longwell at the end of the second drive that went wide right.
But the Vikings offense looked even more confused the Packers, allowing free rushers on Culpepper too often. On the first drive, when Vikings were moving the ball, a 3-yard sack by Paris Lenon and a 14-yarder by Brady Poppinga put Minnesota’s first drive on life support. Their second drive came crashing down on a shared sack by Grady Jackson and Aaron Kampman.
While the Vikings passing game was taking sacks, the Packers were just starting to find explosiveness on offense. Facing third-and-7 on their third series, Favre found Donald Driver for 11 yards. Three plays later, facing third-and-8, Favre connected with Robert Ferguson for a 44-yard bomb to the Vikings 36-yard line. After a halfback pass from Tony Fisher to Bubba Franks for 14 yards, Favre threw a perfect bullet down the right sideline to Driver for a 22-yard touchdown and 7-0 lead with 12:11 left in the second quarter.
Daunte Culpepper and Company got their most explosive play of the second half with a 21-yard pass to Marcus Robinson on third-and-7, moving across midfield again. This time the drive ended with an aborted play (read: fumbled snap) when the Vikings lined up with no one in the backfield and attempted a sneak on fourth-and-1 that Nate Burleson recovered but wasn’t able to advance for a first down.
The Packers took over on the Minnesota 40-yard line and took advantage of the field position. Favre found Driver for connections of 10 and 40 yards, the second one a short pass where Driver broke numerous tackles and took it to the 5-yard line. On second down, Favre found Antonio Chatman for a 4-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead with 4:33 left in the half.
But it wouldn’t end there, as the Packers took advantage of one more Vikings miscue in the first half. After a 72-yard kickoff return by Koren Robinson, Mewelde Moore fumbled on the first carry of the drive and defensive tackle Corey Williams recovered to give Green Bay another chance late in the first half.
The Favre-to-Driver connection continued with a 14-yard pass on the initial third down of the drive. The Vikings had Green Bay stopped on third-and-10, but a defensive holding call kept the drive going, and after completions of 15 yards to Green and 9 yards to Fisher, the Packers were in position for another 53-yard field goal attempt by Longwell. This one had the distance and accuracy to give Green Bay the 17-0 advantage with 22 seconds left, a lead it would take to halftime.
The second half started and ended much better for Minnesota. Culpepper picked up a first down with a 16-yard pass to Nate Burleson and another with a 13-yard run by Moore. Tight end Jermaine Wiggins followed with a 13-yard reception. The drive stalled on the 9-yard line and Minnesota elected to kick the 27-yard field goal instead of going for it on third-and-2. It resulted in Minnesota’s first points of the game, but it still trailed 17-3.
After the defense shut down Green Bay, Culpepper built on the rhythm of the previous drive. He started with an 18-yard run on a scramble up the middle of the field. He followed that with a 16-yard pass to Wiggins, then a 13-yarder to Troy Williamson on third down. After going to Marcus Robinson in the left corner of the end zone and Robinson getting flagged for offensive pass interference, Culpepper went right back to Robinson in the same area on the very next play for a 27-yard touchdown with 4:48 left in the third quarter.
The Packers used a defensive holding call on Fred Smoot, a 13-yard run by Green and a 24-yard pass to Franks to keep the chains moving on their next drive, but Longwell pushed another field goal wide left from 42 yards out.
The Vikings capitalized with a field goal drive of their own. It started with a 19-yard pass to Travis Taylor on third down, then an 11-yard flea-flicker to Nate Burleson. Jermaine Wiggins followed with a 10-yard reception to put Edinger in field goal position, and after an 8-yard Moore run, Edinger knocked through the 22-yard kick to cut the deficit to 17-13 with 9:01 to play.
The Minnesota momentum continued to build.
Green Bay picked up a fortuitous bounce on a fumble during the ensuing kick return, but it lost Green on the second play of the drive with a knee injury that saw him carted off the field. That led to a Packers punt, and the Vikings kept their offensive rhythm going.
Culpepper completed every pass attempt on the ensuing drive, starting with a 29-yarder to Moore, 5 yards to Wiggins and 10 yards to Taylor to midfield. After a 14-yard quarterback draw, Culpepper found Burleson for 10 yards on third-and-8. One play later, Mewelde Moore scored the first touchdown of his career with a 14-yard reception for a 20-17 lead with 3:10 to play.
To the surprise of no one, Favre led the Packers down the field when they needed it most for their only points of the second half. Starting at his own 23-yard line, he hit tight end David Martin for 9 yards and, two plays later, Martin again for 21 yards. After passes of 6 and 10 yards to Antonio Chatman, Favre went back to Fisher for 8 yards, but the drive stalled on the 21-yard line. This time, Longwell made the 39-yard attempt to tie the game with 24 seconds to play.
After a 25-yard kick return by Koren Robinson, Culpepper took possession at the 36-yard line with 17 seconds left. He checked down a pass to Moore for 14 yards to midfield, and Minnesota used its final timeout. The Vikings knew they needed to get inside the 40-yard line to have a chance. With 8 seconds left, Culpepper took the snap and found Marcus Robinson at the 38-yard line. With two seconds left, Edinger lined up his 56-yard game-winner and gave the Vikings the win on a field goal with no time remaining.
The improbable comeback and 23-20 win brings the Vikings to 2-4 while the Packers fall to 1-5. With a 13-10 win by Detroit, the Vikings remained one game out of first place in the NFC North, hoping to build on a one-game winning streak as they prepare to travel to Carolina.