September 26, 2011

1999: Favre’s Fourth-Down TD Pass Gives Packers Win Over Vikings

Some things had changed for the Green Bay Packers as they entered the 1999 NFL season. Most notably, Head Coach Mike Holmgren had departed for Seattle and was replaced by Ray Rhodes, once the team’s defensive coordinator and most recently the coach of the Eagles. All-time great DE Reggie White had retired following a 16-sack season at age 37. But 30-year-old QB Brett Favre (pictured at right), a three-time league MVP, was still behind center and the key to an offense that also included RB Dorsey Levens and WR Antonio Freeman.

The Packers had gone 11-5 in ’98 and split their first two games in 1999 before hosting the Minnesota Vikings on September 26 at Lambeau Field. The Vikings, coached by Dennis Green, were coming off of a brilliant 15-1 season in 1998 that ended up with an overtime loss to Atlanta in the NFC Championship game. QB Randall Cunningham made a spectacular comeback after a year of retirement followed by a season on the bench, and rookie WR Randy Moss was equally impressive in tandem with veteran Cris Carter. They had beaten the Falcons by three points in the opening game of ‘99 but had lost to Oakland the previous week.

Minnesota scored on its first possession of the game, driving 94 yards in 14 plays that ended with RB Leroy Hoard running for a two-yard touchdown. Along the way, Cunningham completed passes of 23 and 27 yards to Carter.

The Packers responded with an 11-play, 70-yard drive that was capped early in the second quarter by a 28-yard Ryan Longwell field goal. Favre, who accounted for 61 of those yards with five pass completions, connected with Freeman for 12 yards on a third-and-seven play and on a 37-yard pass play to WR Bill Schroeder that put the ball on the Minnesota four.

Midway through the period, Cunningham threw a pass intended for Moss, who was being triple-covered, and DB Antuan Edwards (the first of three rookie defensive backs drafted by the Packers with Minnesota’s passing game in mind) intercepted and returned it for a 26-yard touchdown, putting Green Bay ahead at 10-7. However, inside the last minute before halftime, Gary Anderson evened the score at 10-10 with a 34-yard field goal that was set up by a pass interference call on Edwards, a two-yard run by RB Moe Williams on a fourth-and-one play, and an 18-yard Cunningham completion to WR Jake Reed in a third-and-nine situation to the Packers’ 24.

The Vikings started off the second half with a 13-play possession that went 61 yards. Cunningham completed a six-yard pass to RB David Palmer on a third-and-five play and converted a fourth-and-one situation with a five-yard run to the Green Bay 40. The drive ended with a 22-yard Anderson field goal that put Minnesota back in front at 13-10. The Packers responded with a long drive of their own. Favre completed four of his eight passes, including two that converted third downs, along the way as Green Bay’s offense went 66 yards in 14 plays for a game-tying 35-yard field goal by Longwell.

Less than five minutes into the fourth quarter, Longwell put the Packers in the lead with a 34-yard field goal to cap a 13-play possession. The Minnesota passing game, which had devastated Green Bay in both meetings in ’98, had been well-defensed this time. Randy Moss had caught just one pass for three yards thus far.

But as the game edged down to the final two minutes, the Vikings went 80 yards in just five plays. Cunningham completed a 50-yard pass to Reed to the Green Bay 28. RB Robert Smith ran for 11 yards, and then Moss caught a pass between FS Darren Sharper and CB Tyrone Williams in the middle of the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown. With the successful extra point, Minnesota was up by 20-16 and it appeared that the Cunningham-to-Moss combination had once again done in the Packers.

Taking possession at the Green Bay 23 yard line, Favre fired a pass down the middle to WR Corey Bradford for a 22-yard gain and followed with short throws to Levens that got the ball to the Minnesota 32. An incompletion was followed by a six-yard pass to Schroeder with the clock now down to 43 seconds. The Packers took their last timeout and Favre again threw to Levens, who gained just three yards – not only was it too short for a first down, but he failed to get out of bounds.

Moving quickly up to the line without time to huddle on a fourth-and-one play, Favre took the snap, pump-faked to his right, and instead of looking for a short sideline pass to get a first down and stop the clock, went to Bradford down the middle. The wide receiver caught the pass, ran past CB Jimmy Hitchcock, and scored a 23-yard touchdown that sent the home crowd into delirium.

With the exhausted Favre getting oxygen on the sideline, the Vikings had time for just one play, which was a long “Hail Mary” pass by Cunningham that was intercepted by Edwards at the Green Bay five yard line to nail down the stunning 23-20 win for the Packers.

Green Bay outgained the Vikings (360 yards to 328) but Minnesota had the edge in first downs (21 to 20). Neither team was particularly effective on the ground, with the Vikings rushing for 97 yards on 29 attempts and the Packers running the ball 22 times for 71 yards. Green Bay also didn’t turn the ball over at all, while the Vikings did so twice.

Brett Favre completed 24 of 39 passes for 304 yards and the one touchdown. Dorsey Levens gained just 49 yards on 18 carries but also caught a team-leading 9 passes that gained another 84 yards. Bill Schroeder (pictured at left) accumulated 85 yards on his 5 catches and Corey Bradford had four receptions for 72 yards and the game-winning TD.

For the Vikings, Randall Cunningham went to the air 32 times and completed 18 of those passes for 244 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Jake Reed caught 6 passes for 108 yards while Cris Carter contributed 4 receptions for 85 yards. Randy Moss ended up with just two catches for 13 yards and the one TD. Robert Smith was the leading rusher with 85 yards on 21 carries.

“That was close to a miracle, if not a miracle,” said Ray Rhodes afterward.

Despite the thrilling win over the Vikings, the Packers remained an inconsistent team, finishing at 8-8 and in fourth place in the NFC Central, although still nearly qualifying for a wild card spot in the playoffs (two other .500 teams, the Cowboys and Lions, beat them out based on tiebreakers). Minnesota did go to the playoffs, ending up in second place in the division with a 10-6 record and the top wild card slot. The Vikings defeated Dallas in the Wild Card round and lost to the eventual-champion Rams at the Divisional level.

Brett Favre’s statistics reflected his team’s struggles and his own as he dealt with an injured thumb on his passing hand. He led the NFL in pass attempts (595), ranked second in completions (341) as well as interceptions (23), which outnumbered his TD passes (22). While his 4091 yards through the air placed fourth, his completion percentage of 57.3 was his lowest since becoming a starting quarterback in 1992.

Randall Cunningham (pictured below) had a far more disappointing season. Coming off an MVP year in 1998, he lost his starting job to Jeff George and threw for just 1475 yards with eight touchdowns and nine interceptions. It marked the end of his three-year tenure in Minnesota.

Cris Carter and Randy Moss were still top receivers, however. Carter caught 90 passes for 1241 yards (13.8 avg.) and 13 touchdowns and was a consensus first-team All-Pro selection as well as Pro Bowl choice. Moss, in his second year, had 80 catches for 1413 yards (17.7 avg.) and 11 TDs and also was chosen for the Pro Bowl.