Packers 17, Minnesota 20. The season gets longer and longer. It is payback for the two 3 point victories last season that won the Packers the NFC North division title. Unfortunately, the home field advantage it created did not lead to a win in the opening round of the playoffs. The same can be said this season; Minnesota wins two close games against the Packers, but it doesn't help in the offseason when both teams need to retool the rosters and the Packers are selecting a few spots ahead of Minnesota in every round.
The biggest disappointment is that this probably ended any chance that Mike Sherman had at returning as coach next season. Sherman isn't a perfect coach, but he knows how to coordinate a successful offense and he built the team that won the division three seasons in a row. His biggest sin is that he isn't GM Ted Thompson's chosen coach, but the Packers inability to win at home the last two seasons and two home playoff losses in three seasons is probably unforgiveable. Losing to division rival Minnesota in a cold, non-dome situation is probably the worst possible home loss.
First Half: The Packers came out with a lot of energy and Minnesota looked flat. Minnesota didn't have any success running or throwing the football. The Packers offense had some life, but the lift that RB Samkon Gado brought to the running game vs. Atlanta vanished. The defense abused QB Brad Johnson badly in the quarter, especially DE Aaron Kampman. Kampman dominated the two right tackles that played against him. The player that really shined in the half was rookie FS Nick Collins. Collins had his first career interception and was much more involved in the game. The Packers are starting to see the rewards for letting Collins learn how to play in the NFL on the field in his rookie season. QB Brett Favre's two great TD passes to WR Donald Driver in the half were great, but his interception returned for a touchdown by a player forced into the lineup due to the injury to starting CB Fred Smoot was awful. In the Packers last two losses, Favre committed a turnover that was returned for a touchdown and it was the difference in each game. Packers 14, Minnesota 7.
Second Half: Minnesota came out of the locker room with a spark and now the Packers looked flat, as the two teams repeated the same game played in Minnesota last month. The Packers offense plays worse the longer the game goes on. In the first half, the opposing team gives some respect to the Packers running game, just in case someone like Gado comes off the bench and has a great game. In the second half, the opponent has first hand knowledge that the run offense is no threat and it gets much harder to throw the ball. It doesn't help Favre that his #2 WR could not get open as he is probably playing with an injury (Robert Ferguson), his #3 WR is short (Antonio Chatman), and his #4 WR is bad (Andrae Thurman). The offense had a spark in the 4th quarter when TE Donald Lee lined up as the slot receiver and Favre threw four completions to him.
The big story in this half was that Minnesota ran up and down the field against the Packers' defense. Minnesota's offense had been slumbering for at least the last game and a half, but they turned it around. They started exploiting that the Packers are awful at covering tight ends. TE Jermaine Wiggins had two big catches on Minnesota's first touchdown drive. S Mark Roman had a illegal use of hands penalty that kept the drive alive and was as much of a difference in the game as any other play. Then Minnesota discovered the benefits of rushing right at DE KGB. Gbaja-Biamela wasn't at fault for getting blocked on the run plays right at him, only once was he blocked cleanly out of the play. But the defensive tackle to that side was usually blocked by the center, the left guard was able to move downfield to block the linebacker, if one was actually present on that side, and RB Mewelde Moore was able to run untouched for at least seven yards. It didn't help either that the defensive line all appeared to tire as they spent the entire second half on the field and Minnesota started to get a solid push from their entire offensive line on running plays. The run defense that looked solid in the first half was tired and shoved around in the fourth quarter.
The big play that sealed the game was the long pass to a wide open WR Koren Robinson. After CB Joey Thomas was released after the Cincinnati game because he committed a big penalty late in the 4th quarter that sealed the loss. Enter new 3rd cornerback CB Jason Horton. With a minute left in the game, the Packers blitz, Horton thinks he is playing a cover 2 short zone, lets Robinson run right by him, but only Collins is deep in coverage for the entire field. Horton was obviously playing the wrong defense. A typical play in a season filled with big mistakes and few big plays. Packers 17, Minnesota 20.