GREEN BAY – There was an odd vibe permeating Lambeau Field when the time clock struck zero on Sunday afternoon, and as the Green Bay Packers filtered back to their locker room, a strange silence followed them as the over 70,000 in attendance saw them play the Minnesota Vikings to a 26-26 tie.
It was the second tie in the NFL in the last two seasons – the San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams played to a draw on Nov. 11, 2012 – but it was just the fourth such result in the league this century and the first Packers tie since a 17-17 draw against the Denver Broncos on 1987 in Milwaukee’s County Stadium.
"It was just an odd day," said Packers defensive lineman Mike Daniels, who recorded one sack. "I mean … I’ve never seen a stadium just quiet after the game. So I’m pretty sure … the general feeling is just 'What?' And by my lack of response you can see that, obviously, everybody is just confused, scratching their heads, a bunch of question marks hanging over people’s heads."
Interestingly, the Packers and Vikings have tied before, finishing a game on Nov. 26, 1978 – nearly 35 years ago on the nose – knotted at 10 apiece.
Head coach Mike McCarthy left the 75 minutes of action feeling empty, as it featured the Packers falling behind 20-7, a quarterback change, a fourth quarter rally, an overtime lead, Eddie Lacy going over 100 yards but not finishing the game and the defense coming up with six sacks and a turnover while allowing nearly 500 yards of offense.
"A tie. I don’t know. I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel about that," quarterback Matt Flynn said. "I think we’re all disappointed. We needed that win and we all knew it, but things aren’t over."
"I don’t really know what to feel," added kicker Mason Crosby.
The Packers avoided losing their fourth straight game but still haven’t won since dominating these same Vikings back on Oct. 27 in Minnesota. Not coincidentally, that was the last full game Aaron Rodgers played under center and it was the last time the team had scored more than 20 points until Crosby connected on a 27-yard field goal to tie the game 23-23 with just under a minute remaining in regulation.
Scott Tolzien, making his second consecutive start at quarterback, kept the Packers within striking distance at 13-7 at the half with an uneven performance (98 passing yards, 1 rushing touchdown), but following a quick three-and-out to open the second half led to a Vikings touchdown and 20-7 lead, McCarthy changed quarterbacks, inserting Flynn into the game with 8 minutes, 22 seconds left in the third quarter.
"We were looking for a spark," McCarthy acknowledged. "That’s directly what the communication was."
Flynn, who played in Green Bay from 2008 to 2011 and was brought back on Nov. 2, managed just one first down before a punt on his first series.
"I was a little excited that first drive," he admitted. "I probably kind of rushed some things a little bit."
The Vikings extended their lead to 23-7 with 14:24 left in the game on Blair Walsh field goal, and then Flynn was able to take advantage of a soft defensive look the Vikings threw at him.
He led the team on a 9-play, 80-yard drive that was capped with a 3-yard Lacy run. With the score 23-13, McCarthy elected to go for a two-point conversion, which failed.
The defense stiffened and forced the Vikings to punt after five plays, which allowed Flynn to move the Packers 76 yards for another score, this time on a 6-yard pass to Jarrett Boykin.
Trailing 23-20, the defense made another stop with Mike Neal sacking Christian Ponder and forcing another punt after just three plays.
Then, with 2:27 to go, Flynn had a chance to win the game – and the nearly did – by getting the Packers down to the Minnesota 12-yard line.
But, the Packers could not score a touchdown in the red zone, instead tying the game on Crosby’s field goal.
Getting the ball first in overtime, the Packers once again had an excellent chance to win, moving the ball from their own 21 to the Vikings 7, only to once again be denied a touchdown.
Lacy was stuffed for five yards on first and second down, then had to leave the game due a flare up of his asthma. On third down, Flynn’s pass to Jordy Nelson fell incomplete, setting up another chip shot Crosby field goal.
Minnesota tied the game again on its next possession with a 35-yard Walsh field goal, and each team could do nothing with their final two possessions.
The strange feeling fans felt walking out of the stadium was carried into the locker room by the Packers as well.
"It’s going to take some time to reflect upon," Matthews said of the unique result. "Obviously you don’t play this game for tie ballgames. You want that feeling of a win, and if you do lose you come to grips with that in however much time and focus on what you didn’t accomplish. But with a tie, we’re going to take a step back and the reality is we are a half of game behind and that’s an improvement from where we were last week but we could have had this thing all tied up if we were able to win (Sunday) and I think those (thoughts) always creep into your mind."
"I guess … I don’t know how people expect us to feel," Neal added. "Obviously, me, personally as a competitor, I’m (mad) that we didn’t win. I don’t care about the draw or anything. I’m happy we didn’t lose, I mean it doesn’t hurt us; it’s going to help us considering the fact that Detroit lost, but for me, to win, so it’s kind of hard for me to say well, a draw. I don’t like that. I really don’t know how to feel."
There definitely were elements to like about the game, but just as many to dislike.
Defensively, Matthews, still playing with a cast on his right thumb, had two early sacks. Neal had a sack and three tackles for loss. But, Davon House dropped an easy interception and nearly gave up a touchdown by jumping a route but, the ball did redirect slightly off his fingertips, leading to a Cordarrelle Patterson drop. Conversely, Adrian Peterson ran for 146 yards and his backup, Toby Gerhart rushed for an additional 92 on just eight carries and quarterback Christian Ponder posted a 103.9 rating.
Offensively, Tolzien and Flynn were pedestrian at best, completing 53 percent of their total passes for 316 yards with just one score for a combined passer rating of 77.2. But, Lacy ran for 110 yards and James Jones and Nelson combined for 11 catches for 138 yards. Brandon Bostick dropped a sure touchdown, but Boykin (5 catches, 60 yards) made an acrobatic grab on the sideline late in the game.
"We let one get away from us," McCarthy said. "I don’t to discredit Minnesota. We are a peak and valley football team right now, but I have great confidence in this group. I get to work with this group every day. This is a bunch of guys that have high character. No one is quite happy with what has gone on in the past, but I told them in the locker room we need to flip the page."
That next page will be written on Thursday in Detroit as the Packers sit just a half game behind the division-leading Lions and Bears, who both sit at 6-4. The Packers hope it’s the start of a new chapter rather than the beginning of the end.
"We expect to be leading this division, you know?," Matthews said. "We’re just keeping our head above water right now. We’re treading water and hopefully we can find that shallow end after this Thursday. But, like I said, we’ve just got to keep fighting and move forward."
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.