Last year, the Green Bay Packers lost to the Minnesota Vikings because they couldn't keep rookie sensation Randy Moss out of the end zone. Today they almost lost because they couldn't get there themselves. But with 12 seconds remaining Brett Favre finally connected with Corey Bradford for the Packers' first offensive touchdown of the day, stealing a 23-20 victory at Lambeau Field.
The 23-yard pass marked the second time this season Favre has saved the Packers in the last minute--in the season opener, Green Bay swiped a win from Oakland with a touchdown 11 seconds before the final horn. The procedure is becoming a bit of a habit for the quarterback, who has come up with 12 fourth-quarter comebacks in his career, although it is doing little for the ulcer of his coach, Ray Rhodes.
"When you come into the last seconds of a game and see number 4, Brett Favre, drop back and make things happen--believe you me, it's exhausting," Rhodes said. "That was close to a miracle, if not a miracle, although we hope to get to the point where we're not in that position at the end of games."
The touchdown wiped away what had been a day peppered with yellow penalty flags for the Packers (2-1) and sporadic offensive gains for the Vikings (1-2), who now find themselves in the unlikely position of last in the NFC Central. It's a long way from the NFC championship game, which Minnesota reached just nine months ago, and from the show the Vikings put on at Lambeau Field on a Monday night early last season. In that game, Moss laid out his own welcome mat on the backs of the Green Bay secondary, piling up 190 receiving yards and two long touchdown catches.
The Packers couldn't do much to counter Moss and the Vikings last year--Minnesota swept the series--but General Manager Ron Wolf responded on draft day, choosing defensive backs with his first three picks. Today one of those rookies, cornerback Antaun Edwards, came through with an interception and a 26-yard return for a touchdown, and Green Bay managed to keep Moss to just one three-yard catch until the final two minutes of the game.
That's when Moss made his only other reception of the day, a 10-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Randall Cunningham that gave Minnesota a 20-16 lead. But when Favre took control of the ball, the 59,868 fans screaming knew the game was far from over. Shedding the mantle of mistakes that had weighed down his offense all day, Favre led Green Bay on a 77-yard, 104-second drive in which he completed 6 of 7 passes.
"It was tough to lose, especially after you go through the emotional roller-coaster of this game," Cunningham said. "We were ready to win the game, but time after time, you see when the clock is down, someone pulls out a win. Players like Brett Favre, they come down and win."
Favre, who cried after the Oakland game, was drained enough today that he collapsed on the sideline after the final pass, finally leaving the field with the help of the Packers' medical staff. He was feeling much better in the locker room a few minutes later, explaining that he didn't even call a play on the winning touchdown, instead just surveying his options from the line of scrimmage.
When he saw Bradford free himself from the Vikings' coverage on the way to the end zone, he threw.
"As soon as I released off the line, the defensive back jumped straight to the outside, so I just kept my route straight," Bradford said. "I just said to myself, 'If he throws it, I've got to catch it.' So I concentrated on the ball and made the catch."
The touchdown salvaged a day in which Packers penalties enabled Minnesota to score its first 10 points of the game. Afterward, Rhodes attributed some of his team's problems to overenthusiasm, although he stressed the levity of the situation.
"The game was out of hand early--we had a ton of penalties in the first half," he said. Still, he was pleased with the way his team regrouped, especially Favre.
"What else can you say about number 4?" he asked. "Again, he pulled one out that didn't seem possible. The man made plays. He just dialed things up and made plays. He is the best quarterback in football. I just hate to see us depend on that every week."