If center Frank Winters hadn’t just called for a dry football, the Lambeau Leap might not have given way to the Freeman Fluke.
“Who says football is all skill?” Antonio Freeman said with a smile after his freakish 43-yard touchdown catch 3:39 into overtime gave the Green Bay Packers a thrilling 26-20 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Monday night.
It followed Minnesota’s botched game-winning 33-yard field goal attempt on the last play of the fourth quarter.
Every Catch an Adventure
After sending a drenched football to the sideline, Brett Favre launched a deep pass to Freeman, who 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 rumbled into the end zone.
“I got an early Christmas gift. It fell right into my hands,” Freeman said. “I knew it didn’t hit the ground.”
The swirling winds made every catch an adventure.
“The ball was changing trajectory all night. It affected our receivers. It affected their defender on that play,” Freeman said. “Dishman made a good play. It hit his right hand and his shoulder pad as I fell back.
Both teams were already scattered across the field, some in prayer at midfield, when the officials finally announced the play stood as called.
“The type of season we’re having, we needed a break,” Freeman said. “We got one tonight.”
In the commotion, Favre didn’t even know who he was talking to.
“During all the mayhem, I asked him, ‘Hey, did you catch it?” Favre recounted. “It was (receiver) Donald Driver who I asked. He said, ‘I don’t know if he caught it.’ When I got to Free, he said, ‘I caught it.”
It was the first time the Packers (4-5) had the lead all game against the stunned Vikings, who lost their second straight after starting 7-0.
Despite five turnovers to none for Green Bay and 11 penalties for 129 yards, the Vikings were in position to win it on Gary Anderson’s 33-yard field-goal attempt in a driving rain on the final play of the fourth quarter.
Holder Mitch Berger couldn’t handle a poor snap by Mitch Palmer, and Tyrone Williams picked off Berger’s desperation pass at the 5 as time expired.
Had Berger spiked the snap instead of jumping up and rolling right, the Vikings would have had at least three seconds left for another attempt.
“If I wasn’t an idiot, I would have spiked the ball to get another shot at it,” Berger said. “For some reason, it didn’t cross my mind.”
A Chance to Win
The Vikings had moved into position thanks to curious play-calling by the Packers, who got conservative when they had the ball at their 20 with 1:40 left.
Ahman Green ran two straight draws, gaining three yards, and Vikings coach Dennis Green called timeout with 1:07 left. On third down, Favre badly misfired a pass deep downfield to Driver.
Topping it off, Josh Bidwell punted only 25 yards, giving the Vikings the ball at the Green Bay 48 with 52 seconds and all three timeouts left.
Randy Moss, who had six catches for 130 yards, caught a 19-yard slant pass that gave the Vikings the ball at the 15 with eight seconds left.
“In a game like that, with those kind of conditions, if you’ve got a chance, you’ve got to win it,” Green said.
Berger said the ball was wet even though it had just been brought in.
Minnesota’s Robert Smith rushed for 122 yards on 24 carries and caught two passes for 67 yards, including a 45-yard TD.
Five Turnovers, Three Points
The Packers scored just three points off five turnovers, but took advantage of Daunte Culpepper’s third interception to tie it at 13-all on Ryan Longwell’s 31-yard field goal in the second half.
The teams scored touchdowns 28 seconds apart in the third quarter.
On third-and-17, Smith, who hadn’t caught a TD pass since Oct. 5, 1998, also at Lambeau Field, took a short pass from Culpepper along the left sideline and blew past arm tackles by Tod McBride and LeRoy Butler for a 45-yard score and a 20-13 Vikings lead.
Allen Rossum returned the ensuing kickoff a career-high 90 yards before Kenny Wright caught him at the 2. Two plays later, Green ran over Wright for the game-tying touchdown.
Minnesota took a 13-10 halftime lead on Anderson’s 47-yard field goal as time expired.
Green, starting in place of sure-handed halfback Dorsey Levens who missed his fourth game of the season with a knee injury, cradled a 5-yard under-handed touchdown pass from Favre in the second quarter.