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Freeman Redeems Himself With Catch

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GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — The fluky finish was sweet redemption for Antonio Freeman and could be the beginning of a revival by the Green Bay Packers.

Freeman came up with one of the most extraordinary touchdown catches in NFL history Monday night when his ``Improbable Bobble'' reception gave the Packers a 26-20 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

``The type of season we're having, we needed a break. We got one,'' Freeman said after the Packers avoided falling into a 3-6 hole that would have been nearly impossible to overcome.

``I needed a break,'' Freeman added. ``I got one.''

Freeman has had an otherwise frustrating season.

He was fined $9,000 last month for missing a practice. Before that, he caused a locker room ruckus for intimating that fellow receiver Billy Schroeder wasn't doing enough to take some of the double teams off Freeman.

Brett Favre's passes haven't been finding Freeman often, but trouble sure has.

This year, Freeman has been sentenced to a year's probation, fined $1,000 and ordered to do 50 hours of community service after pleading no contest to obstructing police officers in Green Bay following a traffic accident in December that injured his passenger; been stopped by police in De Pere and issued a warning for speeding; missed the start of a mandatory minicamp because of travel problems; and missed the Monday following the team's bye.

Fans began wondering if the Packers didn't waste their money by signing Freeman to a seven-year, $42 million deal 15 months ago. But Freeman's fortunes, and maybe those of the Packers, turned 3:39 into overtime on a cold, windy and wet night at Lambeau Field.

After sending a drenched football to the sideline, Favre launched a deep pass to Freeman, who slipped on the wet grass as cornerback Cris Dishman deflected the ball at the 15-yard line.

Dishman thought he'd broken up the pass and began celebrating. But the ball bounced off Freeman's shoulder as he rolled over, and he tipped it into his chest before it could hit the ground.

Clutching the ball, Freeman looked toward the nearest official, realized his catch counted and jumped up, eluding safety Robert Griffith as he ran untouched into the end zone.

``A lot of people are critical of Freeman, but he's a good person,'' Favre said. ``He's trying to do his best and this is an example of what he can do.''

And he's still Favre's favorite target, catching five passes for 118 yards Monday night for his second 100-yard day in three weeks.

``If there were any questions about Free going into this game, he answered them,'' Favre said. ``We're behind him. That play has to help him out. I hope our fans get behind him, too.''

The amazing TD followed an equally stupefying field-goal attempt that was botched by the Vikings (7-2) when holder Mitch Berger lost the slippery first-down snap, panicked and threw an interception as time expired.

``There were 8 seconds left. I should have spiked it,'' said Berger, who called himself an idiot for the bonehead play that gave Green Bay a chance in overtime.

``We got two breaks,'' Freeman said.

But the Packers will need plenty more luck to salvage their season.

Coach Mike Sherman and general manager Ron Wolf met Tuesday to discuss the health of their star running back Dorsey Levens, whose bruised right kneecap kept him out of his fourth game this year.

Levens underwent further medical tests Tuesday, but the team didn't release any results. There's a strong possibility Levens will need another operation that could sideline him for several weeks or even end his season.

Also, wideout Corey Bradford, who missed the first two months with a broken leg, injured a knee, and linebacker Brian Williams sat out because of trouble with his surgically repaired knee.



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