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Archive for Saturday, December 25, 2004

Green Bay claims division title

Favre leads decisive drive against Minnesota

December 25, 2004

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— Facing a seven-point deficit midway through the fourth quarter after one of his familiar, costly mistakes, Brett Favre brought Green Bay back again.

For a Packers team that lost four of its first five games this season, this probably didn't seem like all that much trouble.

Favre guided a 76-yard drive to set up Ryan Longwell's game-ending 29-yard field goal, lifting the Packers to a 34-31 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Friday -- and clinching a third straight NFC North crown.

"Never give up. That's been this team's M.O. all season," Favre said, "because we could've quit a long time ago."

The Packers (9-6) trailed 31-24 with 8:18 left after Favre's third-down throw from his end zone was intercepted by Chris Claiborne and returned 15 yards for a touchdown.

The Vikings (8-7), though, couldn't get what they needed from a pass defense that has struggled all season. Donald Driver -- who had 11 receptions for 162 yards -- made a nifty, falling-down catch of Favre's pass on fourth-and-goal at the 3 to tie it at 31 with 3:34 remaining after an 80-yard drive.

"We needed one more play somewhere, and we just didn't do it," center Matt Birk said. "It's a disappointing loss, but there is a tomorrow and we're still very much in the hunt."

Minnesota, which can clinch a wild-card playoff spot with a loss by either Carolina or St. Louis this weekend, appeared on its way to retaking the lead. But a holding penalty on Birk -- the Vikings were flagged nine times for 78 yards -- wiped out a 16-yard run by Michael Bennett that would have given them the ball at the Green Bay 40 just before the 2-minute warning.

"When we watch film, we're going to kick ourselves," said Daunte Culpepper, who went 16-for-23 for 285 yards, no turnovers and three touchdowns -- on three consecutive passes in a wild second quarter in which 38 points were scored.

Green Bay kicker Ryan Longwell, right, celebrates with holder Bryan
Barker after making a game-winning 29-yard field goal. Longwell's
kick as time expired gave the Packers a 34-31 victory over
Minnesota on Friday in Minneapolis.

Green Bay kicker Ryan Longwell, right, celebrates with holder Bryan Barker after making a game-winning 29-yard field goal. Longwell's kick as time expired gave the Packers a 34-31 victory over Minnesota on Friday in Minneapolis.

After a punt, Favre got the ball at his 13 with 1:35 left. Twelve plays later, Longwell's kick sailed through the uprights -- sending the Packers into celebration on their biggest rival's home field.

"We're always confident," Driver said. "We knew we could score."

Favre finished 30-for-43 for 365 yards, three touchdowns and the interception. Ahman Green, who left briefly with a head injury, carried 19 times for 64 yards and a score.

Nate Burleson, who had a career day against the Packers last month, caught two passes for 110 yards and a score. Randy Moss had a touchdown among his two catches and 30 yards, and Michael Bennett finished with 159 total yards on 20 touches.

The Packers' secondary has had problems all season, and tackling was a major first-half deficiency.

Burleson caught a short pass over the middle on third-and-5, shed Darren Sharper and raced 42 yards to the Green Bay 26. Later on that drive, Moss caught a 12-yard scoring pass from Culpepper when Al Harris slipped and couldn't stay with him near the edge of the end zone.

After Green bulled in for a tying touchdown on fourth-and-goal at the 1, Burleson escaped from Ahmad Carroll's arms near midfield following a catch and sprinted for a 68-yard score to make it 14-7.

That's when the game really got crazy.

After using their final timeout of the half -- Green Bay coach Mike Sherman went 0-for-2 on challenges -- the Packers tied it again when Favre found a wide-open Bubba Franks for a 22-yard touchdown with 1:23 left.

"As ugly as that game was," Green Bay guard Mike Wahle said, "you're going to remember how we finished."

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