GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It was impossible to ignore the symbolism. Brett Favre literally limped out of Lambeau Field late Sunday night.
He was unable to put any weight on his troublesome left ankle. He was burdened with the knowledge that his coach considered benching him in the second half of a frenetic game that was once his hallmark -- but now provides ample evidence that his career is nearing its long-delayed end.
As Favre accepted hugs and private words from current and former teammates, and then sat teary-eyed at his locker, Green Bay Packers fans poured out of Lambeau with a rising tide of emotion. The roar from the concourse grew louder and louder as people no doubt absorbed the magnitude of the event they had just witnessed.
The Packers' 28-24 victory was their first over the Minnesota Vikings since Favre signed with their border rivals last year. The job wasn't complete until Favre came up 20 yards short on what would have been the 46th fourth-quarter/overtime victory of his career. His final pass, a heave toward receiver Randy Moss in the back of the end zone, dropped harmlessly to the ground on fourth down.
"Devastating," Favre said of the evening. "I don't know how else to put it."
Favre had reinjured his left ankle in the third quarter while throwing the second of his three interceptions, and coach Brad Childress admitted that "I did have a thought" about pulling a player he begged to return for a 20th, and presumably final, season this year. Favre redeemed himself by leading a touchdown drive on the next possession, but the postgame anger from Childress -- and Favre's exasperated response -- was palpable.
Favre's three interceptions in the second half led to 14 Packers points, including Desmond Bishop's 32-yard return for a touchdown, and Childress said: "It still goes back to taking care of the football. You can't turn it over to them. You've got to play within the confines of our system. Sometimes you have to just protect the football. You can't have seven points going the other way. Not in a game like this."
We'll get to the condition of Favre's ankle, and his relationship with Childress, in a bit. But before we get carried away, let's note that the primary beneficiaries of Favre's mistakes were the Packers -- and, more specifically, his successor. Aaron Rodgers didn't have his best night, throwing two interceptions deep in Vikings territory and miscommunicating with receivers on a half-dozen other incomplete passes. So I don't think we can put a bow on this and write "Rodgers beat Favre."
And I don't think Rodgers saw it that way, either. He has done his best to downplay the rivalry with Favre, and he turned down all opportunities to acknowledge the symbolic passing of the torch Sunday night.
"It wasn't really on my mind too much." he said. "It's obviously something the media has talked about a lot and brought to my attention a number of times, so I guess we can maybe stop with that for a little bit."
His teammates, however, seemed more affected.
"It's got to mean a lot to him," veteran defensive lineman Ryan Pickett said. "Just the whole thing that happened here. It just hangs over. Then Brett beat us twice last year. We're happy we have A-Rod. We're just happy he got the win.
"It was just one of those nights where you were happy to see it come back around and for him to get this win. He's a great quarterback. All this stuff that happened, all this attention around this game was based on Brett. So I know if I were the quarterback, I sure would be really happy with this win."
If nothing else, Sunday marked the Packers' second win in 13 games decided by four points or fewer since Rodgers succeeded Favre in 2008. The Packers' defense had more to do with closing out this game than the offense, and Rodgers admitted: "I wish I had played better" but noted "it as a special night."
But even on a night when the Packers (4-3) pulled to a virtual tie with the Chicago Bears for first place in the NFC North, Favre stole much of the postgame attention. NBC cameras followed his long and tortuous walk off the field, his limp growing more noticeable with every step. After speaking with reporters for 10 minutes after the game, Favre grabbed both handles of a staircase to brace three hops to the floor.
Call him a drama queen if you want, but I'm with Favre when he said "I know my heart is in the right place. I left everything on the field." Even Rodgers said: "I have a lot of respect for the way he plays."
On the Vikings' final series, in fact, Favre led the Vikings from their 17-yard line to as close as the Packers' 15. The drive consumed most of the 6 minutes, 7 seconds remaining in the game. He threw what was first ruled a go-ahead 35-yard touchdown to Percy Harvin with 48 seconds remaining, but officials correctly overturned the call when replays showed Harvin's right foot landing out of bounds.
Favre threw three more incomplete passes to end the threat -- the last after he slipped, got up, and fired toward Moss as 71,107 people held their breath. I can't fault his effort, competitiveness or toughness for the entire 60 minutes Sunday night.
"It seems like we've won a lot of those games," Favre said. "It's probably the fear of people, whoever I'm playing against, that we are going to make that play like we did to Percy. The reality is you don't win too many of those situations."
No, and the reality is Favre faced a number of questions Sunday night about whether he'll play next Sunday against the New England Patriots. His ankle, repaired surgically this spring, is once again a significant issue. Based on his streak of 291 consecutive games played, I have to imagine that he will find a way from a physical standpoint. But more important in that regard was Childress' reaction to his overall performance.
Favre has thrown more interceptions than any player in NFL history, so none of what we saw Sunday night should be shocking. But Childress criticized Favre most notably for the interception thrown to Bishop, noting that Harvin was wide open on the right side of the field. "I believe the play is designed to go to the other side of the field," Childress said.
Informed of those comments, Favre rolled his eyes and said: "I would say so, too -- after the fact. When I looked at the picture on the sideline, Percy was wide open. So I can't disagree with him. But from my vantage point, you pick a side on certain plays. I wish I knew where everyone was going to be wide open. It sure would make my reads a lot easier. But I can't disagree with him."
Favre has six days to recover physically and emotionally, as well as repair whatever trust Childress has lost, before Sunday's game at New England. He's done it before. Can he do it again? Or was Sunday night the beginning of an inglorious end?