In the bitter rivalry between the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings plenty of games and plays have been etched in lore between their respective fans, but the 78th edition of the series provided a memory for all football fans in general. A rainy Monday night at Lambeau Field was the setting between the struggling 3-5 Packers and the 6-1 Vikings who were coming off a 28 beating by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The game would also mark the first Vikings matchup for Packers’ first year head coach Mike Sherman. The wet grass field hoped to play in the Packers’ favor as the Vikings powerful offense consisting of future hall of fame receiver Randy Moss and Cris Carter had to acclimate themselves as they were used to the fast AstroTurf track inside their home stadium, the Metrodome.
The Packers’ offense opened the game in a lackluster way gaining two yards on three plays before being forced to punt the ball away to the dynamic Vikings’ offense. Led by quarterback Daunte Culpepper, a first-year starter who spent his rookie year as third string quarterback behind Randall Cunningham and Jeff George, and running back Robert Smith, Moss and Carter the Vikings were able move the ball down the field immediately. After eight plays and 60 yards, the Vikings found themselves with a third and goal from the four-yard line before an illegal use of hands penalty on offensive tackle Todd Steussie essentially killed the drive and the Vikings settled for a 30-yard field goal by 41-year-old placekicker Gary Anderson to go up 3-0. On the Packers’ following possession, quarterback Brett Favre got hot, completing five of six passing attempts for 63 yards and the Packers were able to march 81 yards down to the Vikings five-yard line. With the ball the five-yard line and first and goal to go they were unable to sniff the goal line and settled for a chip shot field goal from kicker Ryan Longwell to tie the contest at 3-3.
The beginning of the second quarter saw the Packers’ defense shoot themselves in the foot. After a reverse run by Moss was tackled by cornerback Mike McKenzie for a three-yard loss which was followed up with a sack by defensive end Vonnie Holiday for a loss of six yards, the Vikings were faced with third and 19 from their own seven-yard line. On the third and 19 play, Culpepper’s intended pass to Carter was incomplete thanks to great coverage by nickel back Antuan Edwards, however a costly taunting penalty against McKenzie gave the Vikings 15 yards plus an automatic first down. Following the penalty, two straight runs by Smith went for a total of 26 yards and the Vikings were again on the move. Two plays later a 42-yard completion to Moss gave the Vikings the ball inside the red zone. Culpepper then found Carter two plays later in the end zone to put the Vikings ahead 10-7. A holding call against the Packers’ on the kickoff backed them up to their own 13-yard line to start the following drive, but that did not deter Favre and the offense. After a six-yard run by running back Ahman Green, Favre connected with receiver Antonio Freeman for 33 yards to get the ball near midfield. Three plays later, a deep pass to Freeman was interfered with by cornerback Chris Dishman and the penalty advanced the ball to the six-yard line. After a short run by Green, Favre then hit Green for a five-yard touchdown reception to knot the game up at 10.
Playmaking safety Darren Sharper would make his presence known on the second play of the Vikings third drive, intercepting a Culpepper deep pass intended for Moss. However, the Packer proceeding drive stalled out after a holding penalty on center Frank Winters nullified a 14-yard reception by Freeman, and the Packers’ called on Josh Bidwell to punt it away for the second time in the game. Déjà vu occurred on the next series as Sharper had another interception on a long pass intended for Moss, but the Packers’ could not keep a drive together and once again had to punt away a possession off a turnover with a little over one-minute remaining in the half. With two timeouts remaining, the Vikings were able to move the ball from their own 13-yard line down to the Green Bay 30-yard line, thanks in large part to big gain receptions by Moss (33 yards) and Smith (22 yards). As the first half clock expired Anderson was able to put three more points on the board and the first half ended with the score Vikings 13, Packers 10.
Three and a half minutes into the second half, the Packers secondary struck again as McKenzie made up for his crucial first half taunting mistake by intercepting another deep ball intended for Moss and returning it 26 yards, giving the Packers possession at the Minnesota 34-yard line. The Packers’ were finally able to turn a turnover into points on their possession. A third and two run by Green was stopped short on the Packers’ possession they were close enough in Longwell’s range for him to be able to knock the game tying field goal through the uprights.
Vikings’ head coach Dennis Green stuck with the run game to start the Vikings’ next possession, as they used six straight runs to move the ball down to the Green Bay 38-yard line. After defensive tackle Santana Dotson dropped Culpepper for a seven-yard sack, Culpepper got his revenge hooking up with Smith for a 45-yard touchdown on third and seventeen to put Minnesota back on top 20-13. Their lead would be shortly lived, as Packers’ return man Allen Rossum took the following kickoff 90 yards down to the Minnesota two-yard line before being chased down by Kenny Wright. Two plays later Green found the end zone on a run off right tackle, and the Longwell extra point tied the game back up, 20-20.
As the rain continued to fall, the fourth quarter was a display of sloppy offensive football. The Packers offense accumulated a total of 37 yards on four possessions, all ending with punts. The Vikings didn’t fare much better as they had 63 total yards on four possessions. The Vikings first three possessions in the fourth quarter ended in a punt, but their fourth one had a different outcome. After a poor, 25-yard punt by Bidwell set the Vikings up with the ball on the Green Bay 48-yard line with 52 seconds remaining and two timeouts, Culpepper and the Vikings looked to salt away the game and leave with a win. Two completions to Moss and a scramble run by Culpepper set the Vikings up with a game winning field goal attempt from the Green Bay 15-yard line, making it a 34-yard, relative chip shot for Anderson. After the Packers’ called a timeout in hopes to ice Anderson, as rain poured onto Lambeau Field, the Vikings holder/punter Mitch Berger mishandled the snap and threw a desperate throw up which fell into the hands of cornerback Tyrone Williams and forced the game into overtime as the clock ran out.
The Packers won the overtime coin toss and started with the ball on their own 18-yard line after a short return by Rossum. A ten-yard run by Green started the overtime period, and after a short run and an incomplete pass followed the Packers were faced with a third down and nine from their own 29-yard line. Favre then linked up with Wisconsin’s own Bill Schroeder for a 22-yard gain, bringing the ball to midfield and giving the Packers’ a fresh set of downs. Two more runs by Green led to another third down play. Favre dropped back and launched a deep pass towards Freeman running along the right sideline. Freeman slipped on the wet grass as cornerback Chris Dishman deflected the ball at the 20-yard line. The ball bounced off the back of Freeman’s left shoulder as he rolled over, and he tipped it into his chest with his right hand before it hit the ground. Freeman grabbed the ball, jumped up, juked safety Robert Griffith and ran into the end zone. After a long delay as the referees checked replays of the play, the touchdown stood, the fans and Monday Night Football announcers Al Michaels and Dennis Miller were delirious and the Packers were victorious 26-20.
Minnesota outgained Green Bay 407 yards to 298 yards, but it was the Green Bay defense that came through forcing five turnovers. Favre went 17/36 for 235 yards with two touchdowns, while his favorite target Freeman had five receptions for 118 yards and the game-winning improbable touchdown. The Packers would finish the 2000 season with a 9-7 record and miss the playoffs by one game. They would however beat Minnesota again later in the season to sweep the season series for the first time since 1997. The Vikings won the NFC Central division title with an 11-5 record, before being dismantled in the NFC Championship game by the New York Giants by the final score of 41-0.