The Green Bay Packers clinched the NFC North title with a thrilling 34-31 win over the Minnesota Vikings in Minnesota. Brett Favre completed 30-of-43 passes for 365 yards and three touchdowns while wide receiver Donald Driver caught 11 passes for 162 yards and a touchdown in what ended up being the most productive game of his NFL career.
The Packers started the season losing four of their first five games so it meant a lot to clinch the division title with one game remaining on the schedule. “Never give up,” Favre said. “That’s been this team’s [method] all season, because we could’ve quit a long time ago.”
This was a seesaw game with neither team holding a lead of more than seven points throughout.
The Packers were playing without wide receiver Robert Ferguson who missed the game due to injury. Ferguson sustained head, neck and back injuries the previous week when Jaguars safety Donovin Darius clubbed him in the head and neck with a forearm. Driver and Javon Walker picked up the slack with Walker adding five catches for 90 yards and a score.
The Vikings took a 21-14 lead with 58 seconds left in the second quarter but the Packers were able to answer before the intermission when return man Antonio Chapman ran back the ensuing kickoff 59 yards, setting up another field goal by Ryan Longwell on the final play of the half, making it 21-17.
The Vikings took the lead 31-24 midway through the fourth quarter on a 15-yard interception return for a touchdown by Chris Claiborne. It was Favre’s only interception of the game and he released the ball from his own end zone.
“You know what I really liked?” Packers quarterbacks coach Darrell Bevell said after the game. “How Brett reacted to it. He said, ‘We’ve got to go back out and score.’”
And score they did. The key play on the drive came on 3rd-and-10 when Favre hit Driver with a rocket throw that gained 20 yards and picked up a crucial first down.
“It’s one-on-one,” Bevell said. “Donald has to win. He won. And Brett threw a great ball.”
Later in the drive, Favre found Javon Walker for 17 yards and then Driver for 12 more mixed in between runs by Ahman Green and Najeh Davenport.
The drive culminated on a 4th-and-goal at the Vikings three when Favre found Driver in the end zone and he made an incredible falling catch to pull the Packers to within one. Ryan Longwell booted the extra point and the game was tied with 3:38 left in regulation.
The Vikings picked up one first down but had to punt and the Packers got the ball back at their own 13 with 1:35 left. Favre moved the team 76 yards in 11 plays. He found Driver and Walker for short gains and then connected with running back Tony Fisher for 21 yards to reach the Green Bay 44. Favre then connected with Driver for 18 yards before finding Walker for 31 more that put the ball at the Minnesota 7.
With three seconds left, Longwell booted a 29-yard field goal to give the Packers the victory 34-31.
“We’re always confident,” Driver said. “We knew we could score.”
“Brett Favre handles adversity better than any person I know,” Packers head coach Mike Sherman said. “Ryan [Longwell] is Mr. Dependable.”
The Vikings were angry when the official stopped the clock with four seconds left for a measurement. That stopped the clock and allowed the Packers to get the field goal unit onto the field. “I didn’t quite understand the logic behind giving them a timeout for measurement when the clock was running, they were out of timeouts,” Vikings coach Mike Tice said. “What were they measuring for? To go for a first down?”
The Packers won the game and the division. The team was very excited about their dramatic victory. “For us to come back and win today under these circumstances after last week, I’m really at a loss for words,” said Favre…At 1-4, no one thought we could win the division…As disappointing as it seems at times, you just can’t ever give up.”
“That [last] drive right there says what our season and our team has been all about — ups and downs and still find a way to endure,” Favre added.
“It was almost like a playoff game, the feeling in the locker room after the game,” Packers president Bob Harlan said.
The Packers finished the season 10-6 and made the playoffs for fourth straight season. The win wasn’t always pretty but it was important.
“As ugly as that game was,” guard Mike Wahle said, “you’re going to remember how we finished.”
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