Packers 34, Minnesota 31. Probably the two most evenly matched teams in the NFL this season,
although when WR Randy Moss was healthy and playing alongside QB Daunte Culpepper (playing at MVP
level this season), Minnesota was the better team. Until Minnesota rallied for two 4th quarter
touchdowns, the Packers defense clearly outplayed Minnesota's defense. What happened in the 4th
quarter? Announcer Moose Johnson was absolutely correct that when Culpepper attacked the middle of
the field, Minnesota's offense made big plays. Minnesota had success all game long with TE Jermaine
Wiggins but it really opened up once WRs Marcus Robinson and especially Nate Burleson started working
the middle of the field. CB Al Harris had his best game of the season and CB Ahmad Carroll was ok
for the first three quarters until Burleson started abusing him in the 4th quarter, but FS Bhawoh Jue
(sub for still injured FS Darren Sharper) and the linebackers (all of them, but especially LB
Hannibal Navies) had a lot of trouble in coverage.
First Quarter: The Packers run defense has been much better since NT Grady Jackson returned from
injury (both espn.com and footballoutsiders.com had articles this week spotlighting his play) but the
improved run defense started the week before his return against Detroit (although Detroit's run
offense is not good). The Packers outstanding run blocking offense line from 2003 returned again
this week, keeping defensive players out of the back field. Minnesota P Darren Bennett was great in
San Diego in the 1990s but he is awful now and helped the Packers with every punt he kicked. Packers
7, Minnesota 7.
Second Quarter: After the Packers scored a touchdown, Minnesota almost answered back with a
touchdown, but as Michael David Smith from footballoutsiders.com noted, Jackson busted the 3rd and 2
rush on the Packers 4 yard line, and Minnesota settled for a field goal. The next Packer touchdown
was one of those drives where it all looked too easy; two big runs for RB Ahman Green with giant
rushing lanes, and a play action TD pass to TE Bubba Franks. QB Brett Favre had 4 TDs and 0 INTs for
the game; it was just one of those games when he looked unstoppable. Packers 24, Minnesota 10.
Third Quarter: The Packers defense needs to force and recover more turnovers. This was another game with no recovered turnovers, and it made the game much closer than it really was. The Packer defense held Minnesota twice on their first two possessions and a long Packer drive ended on a failed 4th down conversion (it was a bad spot on the run by FB Nick Luchey, but the Packers had success rushing off tackle all game and it wasn't clear why they didn't call a run off "TE" Kevin Barry's side one more time). WR Donald Driver's fumble on a successful run after a fake handoff to Green led to a quick Minnesota touchdown that brought Minnesota back to life. The Packers offense can't be expected to have zero turnovers every game, and the defense has to force a turnover or two each game to improve the margin for error. Packers 24, Minnesota 17.
Fourth Quarter: The Packers responded, after a big WR Robert Ferguson kickoff return in the 3rd quarter, with a TD drive to add some cushion. But Minnesota finally figured out how to attack the middle of the field with their wide receivers, jsonline.com had an article this week about how rookie CB Joey Thomas was abused badly in this quarter. Jue broke a route and almost had a big interception, but dropped it, early on Minnesota's 16 play TD drive. If the Packers had this one turnover, the turnover battle is evened for the game and the Packers have clobbered Minnesota. Instead it gave Minnesota another opportunity, and eventually led to a tied score. Both Carroll and Thomas are playing like rookies, but you can see the talent each player possesses. It is a lot to ask of a rookie to step in and play at a high level at any position in the NFL, so both players are playing as well as should be expected of them, however, both players should show improvement as this season progresses. Although Jue has played ok this season, his awful 2003 season still hasn't been forgotten and he still hasn't proven that he is a long term answer for the Packers' secondary. Minnesota's defense looked really frustrated on the Packers last TD drive, and they have to be very frustrated that they couldn't stop the Packers on the last drive that led to the game winning field goal. Sometimes in the same situation, Favre is off his game and forces the game losing interception, but Sunday he was on his game and he found the open receivers. Packers 34, Minnesota 31.