Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- If it were up to Brett Favre -- and these days, I’m pretty sure everything is -- fans departing Lambeau Field late Sunday would have had one collective thought.
“I hope that everyone in the stadium watching tonight said, ‘I sure hate that that joker is on the other side, but he does play the way he’s always played,’” he said.
Favre’s renaissance was never more apparent than Sunday, when he took control of a seesaw game at precisely the moment the Minnesota Vikings needed him most in an eventual 38-26 victory over the Green Bay Packers.
A 23-7 run had allowed the Packers to pull within 31-26. The clock showed 5 minutes and 38 seconds remaining in the game, and it was time for someone to grab the moment and for someone else to slink back.
On that count, Favre again proved there is no one better. He pushed the Vikings into the end zone in four plays, the last a 16-yard scoring strike to receiver Bernard Berrian on third-and-11. The touchdown pass, Favre’s fourth of the day, put away the Packers as only a seasoned winner can do, putting an exclamation point on Favre’s return to Lambeau and providing further documentation of his impact on the Vikings.
You’ve probably heard, once or twice, that Favre played 16 years in Green Bay. Trust me when I tell you he took special satisfaction in beating the Packers for the second time this season. But to me, it’s important to focus on the bigger point as well: Not only has Favre put the Vikings (7-1) exactly where they hoped to be, but he has left the Packers (4-3) precisely in the place they have most feared: Below him in the standings.
“The largest storyline was who was going to be in first place in the NFC North,” said Packers defensive end Aaron Kampman.
Favre has almost single-handedly eliminated his former team from that race. In two games against them, he completed 69 percent of his passes for seven touchdowns. He was neither intercepted nor sacked. Sunday, he was two steps ahead at every turn.
“We tried to put pressure on them with blitzes,” Packers cornerback Charles Woodson said. “And he either pointed them out and set the protection the right way, or threw the ball quick and we weren’t able to get to him. We felt like we had enough things called -- and still we can’t get to him for whatever reason. Right now we can’t win the big game.”
There’s little doubt Favre is in the Packers’ heads. They know he has fallen prey to his emotions before, and they hoped a raucous Lambeau crowd -- combined with more pressure -- would jar him into some early mistakes. Instead, the opposite occurred. The Packers choked in the early going, falling behind 14-3 early in the second quarter and taking more sacks (four) than first downs (three) into the halftime locker room.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers escaped the pocket a few times in the second half, the biggest reason why the Packers offense briefly sprung to life. But on this night, he was no match for a rival who was too focused to let the opportunity fall away.
“I can’t tell you how many text messages I’ve gotten from guys just in passing today and yesterday,” Favre said. “’Hey, you’re going to play great. I know you’re nervous.’ I’m like, ‘Easy for you to say.’ But they were right again. I don’t know. It’s awful stressful to feel that way every week. I’d like to feel a little more relaxed. But I’m also pleased with the way I’ve played in these games.”
I suppose it’s possible the Vikings would have won Sunday with one of their other quarterbacks, Tarvaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels. The Vikings hadn’t won here in the Brad Childress era, so I’m dubious of that possibility. Regardless, there’s no one I’d rather have right now, with 5:38 remaining and the game in the balance, than Favre. And here’s one thing I am sure of: If Favre were not with the Vikings, there is no way there would be a 2.5-game difference between the teams in the standings.
Perhaps that’s why Vikings placekicker Ryan Longwell, 35, mobbed Favre, 40, after the final gun. Longwell, who kicked for Green Bay for nine seasons, knew how special and unique Favre’s accomplishment is.
“Unless you play here and have gone through it you just don’t know,” Longwell said. “It goes beyond just winning. It’s a special victory.”
Favre said his emotions began rising Sunday morning near the end of a 30-minute bus ride from the team hotel to Lambeau Field. He saw “a few fingers” as the bus pulled into the parking lot, he joked, but there was never a time when I thought Favre was close to letting the crowd get the best of him.
He celebrated heartily after tight end Visanthe Shiancoe’s 12-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter, and at one point he appeared to be jawing with Packers defensive end Cullen Jenkins. Otherwise, however, Favre remained stoic. After the game, he spent several minutes embracing former teammates -- Rodgers, Donald Driver and Al Harris among them -- and said he was had no intentions to throw any “daggers.”
“I’d like to think I always handle myself with class,” he said. “It’s always tougher when you lose. I understand that. Never been one to rub it in anyone’s face. Guys I’ve played with as a Packer, I’ve got a lot of respect for. As I do this organization and these fans.”
So where does this leave us? For the first time that I can remember, Favre used the words “Super Bowl” in talking about the Vikings’ prospects this season. Up until Sunday, Favre had been saying he hopes to get the team “where we want to be.”
With a 7-1 performance in the first half of the season, the Vikings have pushed themselves onto the short list of favorites for this year’s championship.
“I want to lead this Viking team to the Super Bowl,” Favre said. “Believe me. I do. I’m going to do everything in my power. … At this point, we’ve put ourselves in a good position.”
They wouldn’t be there, of course, were it not for two victories over his former team. And the Vikings would not have swept the Packers without him.
“Am I pleased with the way these two games have turned out?” Favre said. “Yes, absolutely. I knew I could play. My arm feels great. My arm is in a good place. The team has welcomed me in. All the other stuff doesn’t matter. It makes a good story. I know it. [But] I’m glad it’s over. I’m glad we won them both.”