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Packers Claim Their 3rd Straight Division Crown

Longwell Notches His 4th Game-Winning FG: Packers 34, Vikings 31

By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 25, 2004; Page D01

MINNEAPOLIS, Dec. 24 -- Minnesota quarterback Daunte Culpepper was able to stuff several significant team passing records into his stocking Friday night. But Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers will enjoy a far merrier Christmas after Ryan Longwell's fourth game-winning field goal of the season, a 29-yarder with no time on the clock that provided a breathtaking 34-31 victory over the Vikings at the Metrodome.

In a game devoid of much defense, the Packers (9-6) made all the critical plays down the stretch and were rewarded with their third straight NFC North Division title, made even more satisfying because of their 1-4 start and Favre's miserable three-interception second half last week in a dispiriting 28-25 loss to Jacksonville at Lambeau Field.

Vikings fans had reason to hide after Green Bay's last-second field goal gave Packers a 34-31 win. (Tom Olmscheid -- AP)

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_____Oakland at Kansas City_____

• Time: 5 p.m.

• TV: WUSA-9, WJZ-13.

• Records: Raiders 5-9, Chiefs 6-8.

• Last Meeting: Chiefs beat Raiders, 34-27, on Dec. 5 at Oakland.

• Last Week: Raiders beat Titans, 40-35. Chiefs beat Broncos, 45-17.

• Key Matchup: Raiders middle linebacker Danny Clark vs. Chiefs running back Larry Johnson. Last week, Johnson had 151 yards on 30 carries and two touchdowns. Johnson, a 2003 first-round pick, has run for more than 100 yards in each of his last three games and scored five times. Clark leads the Raiders with 114 tackles, but the Raiders allow 130 yards rushing per game and have given up 18 rushing touchdowns, second most in the league.

• Game Notes: According to Elias Sports Bureau, the Chiefs are the first team in NFL history with three backs rushing for 150 yards in different games in one season. Johnson, Priest Holmes and Derrick Blaylock have done it. . . . Raiders defensive backs Charles Woodson and Marques Anderson were arrested for public intoxication early Monday. Anderson practiced Tuesday, but Woodson was held out because of a knee injury and is doubtful. . . . The last time the Chiefs played on Christmas was in the 1971 playoffs, when they lost to the Dolphins in the longest NFL game ever (82 minutes 40 seconds).

-- From News Services

_____Denver at Tennessee_____

• Time: 8:30 p.m.


• Records: Broncos 8-6, Titans 4-10.

• Last Meeting: Houston Oilers beat Broncos, 42-33, on Nov. 26, 1995, at Houston.

• Last Week: Broncos lost to Chiefs, 45-17. Titans lost to Raiders, 40-35.

• Key Matchup: Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer vs. Titans cornerback Andre Dyson. Plummer has thrown eight interceptions and only one touchdown in the last three games. He threw for 292 yards with two interceptions last week. Dyson leads the Titans with five interceptions, including one against the Colts' Peyton Manning a few weeks ago. Plummer is tied for the NFL lead with 19 interceptions and will need to keep passes away from Dyson to keep the Broncos in the playoff hunt.

• Game Notes: The Broncos are the only NFL club that rank among the top 10 in the six main offensive and defensive categories. . . . Titans quarterback Billy Volek had the second-best passing day in franchise history last week with 492 yards and four touchdowns. In the last two weeks, he has thrown for more than 900 yards and eight touchdowns in two losses. . . . Titans wide receiver Derrick Mason leads the NFL with 88 receptions. He has 1,055 yards.

-- From News Services

_____NFL Basics_____
Team index
NFL Section
_____Mark Maske's NFL Insider_____
Manning the Only Choice for MVP (washingtonpost.com, Dec 31, 2004)
Carolina's Comeback Could Make History (washingtonpost.com, Dec 30, 2004)
Cowher's Steelers Won't Lay Down Sunday (washingtonpost.com, Dec 29, 2004)
_____Vikings Basics_____
Vikings page
Player stats
Opponent comparison
_____Packers Basics_____
Packers page
Player stats
Opponent comparison

"For us to come back and win today under these circumstances after last week, I'm really at a loss for words," said Favre, who came into this game with a 3-9 career record in this thunderously loud stadium. "Now we get a home playoff game, and 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."

The Vikings fell to 8-7 and will face the Washington Redskins on Jan. 2 in their season finale. Such is the mediocre state of affairs in the NFC that the Vikings, even before they play at FedEx Field, still can earn a wild-card berth this weekend if Carolina loses to Tampa Bay on Sunday or if St. Louis loses to Philadelphia on Monday night.

Then again, neither team can be expected to go very deep into the playoffs if their porous defensive units continue to leave receivers and running backs wide open, miss tackles by the bunches and allow opposing quarterbacks an eternity to throw, as Culpepper and Favre were able to do all afternoon.

The one throw Favre would dearly love to have back came midway through the fourth quarter and easily could have been fatal to the Packers' hopes.

He was aiming a low trajectory dart toward the right sideline for wide receiver Javon Walker about 20 yards up the field. But the pass was intercepted by Minnesota linebacker Chris Claiborne, who then ran 15 yards for a touchdown, carrying two Packers with him into the end zone for a 31-24 lead with 8 minutes 18 seconds left.

But Favre, as usual, was never fazed. He has directed 34 career comebacks when his team has trailed in the fourth quarter.

After that last interception, Favre merely drove his team right back down the field, from his 20 to a first and goal at the Vikings 7-yard line. Three plays later, with the Packers facing fourth and goal at the three, Green Bay Coach Mike Sherman said he never hesitated trying to score and tie the game.

Driver split wide right, made a quick move to the post and Favre found him just across the goal line for his third touchdown pass of the afternoon. It tied the game at 31 with 3:34 to play on a day Driver had 11 catches for 162 yards.

On their next series, the Vikings pushed quickly to a first down at midfield, but then inexplicably began to implode. First there was a false start, then a holding call, backing them up to a first and 25 from their 34. From there, Culpepper and his offense, so smooth so often in the first half when he threw touchdown passes on three straight plays, could not convert the first down and were forced to punt.

The Packers took over at their own 13 with 1:35 remaining, clearly an eternity for a quarterback of Favre's caliber, and he did not disappoint.

The biggest play of the game came on first down at the Minnesota 38 with 25 seconds left. Favre knew the Vikings were going to blitz him, and so did Walker, the third-year wide receiver named to his first Pro Bowl team earlier in the week. An instant before Favre was smacked to the ground by Vikings safety Brian Russell, he threw the ball to Walker, who was open in front of cornerback Terence Shaw.

Walker broke Shaw's tackle and was off and running, all the way down to the 8-yard line, easily in Longwell's field goal wheelhouse. Favre took a knee three straight plays to bleed the clock down to three seconds, and Longwell came in to make a perfect kick for the victory, just as he'd done from 33 yards in the Packers' victory by the exact same 34-31 margin in Green Bay on Nov. 14.

"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," said Favre, who completed 30 of his 43 throws for 365 yards.

On that 31-yard pass and run by Walker to set up the field goal, Favre admitted, "I never saw him catch the ball. When I looked up, I saw Javon running and it was somewhat better than what I'd hoped for. That's Javon."

Favre's heroics overshadowed some wonderful play from Culpepper, whose three scoring passes gave him 37 for the season, breaking the club record set by Randall Cunningham in 1998. His 285 passing yards pushed him to 4,418 for the season and allowed him to set another single season record.

But none of that was much consolation to a Minnesota team that had the Packers right where they wanted them -- at home, with a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter and a home crowd of 64,311 giddy at the prospect of clinching the division and making the playoffs for the first time since the 2000 season.

"You never take control of Brett Favre," Minnesota Coach Mike Tice said. "He's always going to be there, he's always going to come back. They score more points on touchdowns in the last two minutes of the game than any team in the league. . . . There's a reason for that."

© 2004 The Washington Post Company