Green Bay forced three-and-outs on the Vikings’ first two possessions on Sunday night, but Minnesota started to find its rhythm after that. Quarterback Brett Favre led Minnesota’s offense as it converted four of its final five third-down opportunities in the first half on the way to a three-point lead at the break.
The Packers began the second half with a three-and-out of their own, and Favre quickly led Minnesota’s offense out to midfield on three plays. Facing a third-and-4, at the 50, linebacker Brad Jones got pressure on Favre, putting a hit on the veteran signal-caller as he threw a short pass over the middle intended for wide receiver Bernard Berrian. But linebacker A.J. Hawk was there to make the interception, which he returned 21 yards to the Minnesota 41.
“They had kind of a different formation lined up against us,” Hawk said. “They had four guys to one side of the ball, and when you do that you are always going to have one or two guys coming back. So I was one of the inside guys.
“I actually had one of the easier jobs on that play, just to wait basically for a receiver to come back. Berrian came back and then got across my face and then Brad hit him and made him throw the ball behind the receiver.”
The Packers quickly took advantage of the field position, with quarterback Aaron Rodgers connecting with wide receiver James Jones on a 17-yard pass over the middle to convert a third-and-5. Two plays later, Rodgers found wide receiver Greg Jennings for a 14-yard score to give Green Bay the 21-17 lead.
But the defense wasn’t done, and once again it was a linebacker coming up with the big play. Just two plays later on second-and-6 at Minnesota’s 25, Favre pump faked to avoid pressure before taking a hit from rookie defensive end C.J. Wilson on a pass thrown to wide receiver Randy Moss. The pass went into the waiting arms of linebacker Desmond Bishop right in front of Moss, and Bishop easily returned his first career interception 32 yards down the right sideline for a touchdown.
“I had coverage on Moss, so I was thinking, ‘Oh, man,’” Bishop said. “I just played out my technique, stayed poised, and he did a route that I had seen in film over and over so I just naturally reacted to it when he broke out. I looked back at Favre and he pumped. I knew he wanted to go there. Then he started feeling a little bit of pressure.
“I was in good position so he held it. I guess he was trying to let Moss slide out and get some room, but I guess the pressure was closing in, he felt pressure, so he just tried to throw it to his playmaker and make a play and I just stepped in front of it.”
Bishop’s interception return for a touchdown was the first by a Green Bay linebacker since Nick Barnett posted a 95-yard return for a score vs. New Orleans on Oct. 9, 2005. With Bishop and Hawk both registering picks, it was the first time a pair of Packers linebackers each registered interceptions in the same game since Barnett and Brady Poppinga did so at Miami on Oct. 22, 2006.
On both of the third-quarter interceptions, the pressure the defense got on Favre was key, something they didn’t do in a pair of losses last season when Favre wasn’t sacked on 59 attempts in two games.
“Guys were just winning their one-on-one battles, and that’s kind of what it is about,” Hawk said. “We weren’t calling anything crazy. I say it all of the time, football is not rocket science. We just wanted to put pressure on the quarterback and try to get turnovers, and tonight that happened.”
The lack of sacks in 2009 against Favre wasn’t the only area that Green Bay’s defense struggled in against Minnesota last season. Despite leading the league with 30 interceptions as a team in ’09, none of those came off of Favre in the two games. On Sunday night, safety Nick Collins added an interception of Favre in the fourth quarter to squelch a potential scoring opportunity for the Vikings, giving Green Bay’s defense a season-high three on the evening.
For a Green Bay team that has thrived when it comes to scoring points off of takeaways over the past few seasons, that proved to be the case once again on Sunday night as they provided a spark when it was needed most in a key divisional win.
“I think we were, as a team and mainly as a defense, we were in a lull at that time,” said Hawk, whose interception gave him two for the season, matching a career high. “We came out kind of on fire as a defense, doing well, got up, and then they got in their rhythm as an offense and were really rolling against us. They were running the ball well and completing big third downs and scoring touchdowns, and we needed something.
“Every defense you always talk about turnovers kind of come in bunches. For whatever reason, that happens, and that was what happened tonight.”