Northern Issues

While there's no debating Brett Favre is one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the game, of late his game has not held up in the postseason.

Green Bay Packers
For what it's worth, most of Brett Favre's teammates -- including his closest friend on the team, quarterback Doug Pederson -- and his brother Scott, believe he will come back for another year.

"One more year for him," Pederson said Monday. "Personally, that's what I think."

Favre left Lambeau Field a day earlier with his confidence perhaps at an all-time low.

For one of the few times in his incomparable career, Favre conceded doubts about his ability after his abysmal performance in the 31-17 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

"I still feel like I can play, although I question that right now," Favre said. "Terrible would be an understatement. I expected more out of myself."

Favre turned 35 in October. His wife, Deanna, recently completed chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer. The couple has two daughters, and the oldest, Brittany, spends the fall semester away from the family attending high school in Hattiesburg, Miss.

"I know I have to make some decisions," Favre said. "But it's not about me anymore. My wife has gone through some difficult times and continues to. That will play into my decision-making.

"I know if my family were up here with me they'd say, 'He's coming back. We're not going to let him go out like that.' But I also have to be fair to them, too. They'll be involved in it.

"It's a good thing to still be physically able to play. But in some ways you almost want that decision to be made for you. That's not the case.

"I know the Packers would love to have me back. At least I think they would. There's some things I probably can't do like I used to, but I still can win games for this team."

Favre has talked for years about retirement, but because he played effectively and basically without injury this season the club fully expects him to return.

In a long post-game conversation with Mike Sherman, the coach's message was to take some time and not let this game unduly influence his decision.

"It'd be easy to walk off the field after that and say, 'I've had enough,' " Favre said. "But I'm going to try to be as fair to myself and this team as possible.

"I've got a tremendous amount of pride. I know one game, regardless of how good or bad, does not define my career, as difficult as it may be for me to accept that.

"There's no fine line here. I live to play the game. I don't think it's passed me by yet."

In the Packers' last four elimination games Favre has thrown 13 interceptions compared to six touchdowns. His passer rating in those four games is 52.1.

Sherman would like an answer from Favre well before the draft. Favre promised to cooperate.

"I told Mike, 'If I do come back I want it to be for the right reason,' " Favre said. "I don't know how much I'm to be paid next year (just more than $11 million), but as I sit before you today I hope Brett Favre does not come back for the money. I've never done that before.

"If I do come back I want to lead this team to the Super Bowl and give everything I can possibly give."

Scott Favre said he expects his brother to play next year.

"I have no idea, but if I had to guess I'd say he'll be back," he said. "He hasn't said anything, but I think they're close to being pretty good and if they get a few people in the offseason things could be a lot better next season real quick."

Detroit Lions
The Lions' focus for the 2005 season should be -- and will be -- considerably different than it was a year ago.

Since owner William Clay Ford set president Matt Millen loose on a total rebuilding of the team four years ago, the organization's focus has been on assembling enough talent to field a legitimate contender.

With the exception of a couple of holes that will require patching in free agency or the draft, Millen has finally succeeded in acquiring the players capable of winning. The job now is to get them to win consistently and frequently.

Some young players and young teams hit the ground running. It wasn't that way with the Lions in 2004. They won a few games early and then struggled through the rest of the season, but coach Steve Mariucci isn't blaming the team's shortcomings on a lack of talent.

"I'm ultimately responsible for what goes on," Mariucci said. "I take full responsibility for this team's efficiency, its production, its losses, its behavior, all of it. I'm the head coach and have to be responsible for that.

"The record is not as good as it needs to be, it's that simple. The reasons are many, but I think it comes down to one that is very, very obvious to the naked eye. When you have a chance to win a close game, you've got to find a way to your share of them.

"We've lost five or six of the close games and just won a couple. That's the difference between going to the playoffs and not going to the playoffs.

"And winning close games ... in general, a veteran team tends to win those games. A young team tends to find a way to screw it up. We've got to take this young team and grow it fast, make it a better, confident sort of team so you win those games. You're poised at the end of the game to make a play, you do the right things."

The heart of the offense -- the skilled position players -- is extremely young. Running back Kevin Jones and wide receiver Roy Williams were both rookies, quarterback Joey Harrington was in his third season. They will be joined in 2005 by wide receiver Charles Rogers, who has played only five games in two years because of injury.

The heart of the defense, likewise, was experiencing growing pains in 2004. Except for Earl Holmes in the middle, the linebacking corps was composed entirely of players in their first or second season. Strong-side starter Teddy Lehman and Alex Lewis were rookies; weak-side starter James Davis was in his second season.

The best experience, of course, is the experience they got playing 16 games during the past season.

If they can spend the full off-season of mini-camps working together -- as Mariucci expects -- they should be ready to start making the necessary plays to win close games instead of making the rookie mistakes that lose them.

The lack-of-talent excuse no longer applies; if the Lions don't win more games than they lose next year, they have only themselves to blame.

They may have to do it without Harrington. There is a report that the Lions will consider releasing the quarterback in the next six weeks to avoid paying the $3 million roster bonus he is due in early March.

The report, based on unidentified sources, said the organization is split on Harrington, with some -- including Mariucci -- harboring reservations whether he is good enough to take the Lions to a Super Bowl.

Harrington posted career-best numbers with 19 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, passing yardage of 3,047 and a passer rating of 77.5, but there is a question whether those numbers measure up to expectations for the third player taken in the 2002 draft.

Millen is known to be a Harrington supporter.

Minnesota Vikings
With all eyes and cameras dissecting his every move, one had to figure Randy Moss would do something controversial during Sunday's 31-17 wild-card victory at Lambeau Field.

And, bingo, he did.

After a 34-yard touchdown catch that put the Vikings ahead 31-17 early in the fourth quarter, Moss ran to the goalpost, pretended to moon the crowd and then wiggled his backside briefly against the post.

It was funny.

But to witness the backlash that has ensued, you'd think Moss committed a heinous crime against humanity.

Fox play-by-play man Joe Buck, who must be pushing for the color analyst job next fall, called it a "disgusting act" and apologized to viewers for showing them the celebration. No, he did not apologize for his network's disgusting reality show, "Who's Your Daddy?"

ESPN chose not to show replays of it Sunday night. During the NFL Primetime show, Chris Berman said Moss "disgraced Lambeau Field and disgraced himself." Of course, ESPN didn't seem to mind that partner ABC had Nicollette Sheridan dis-towel in an NFL locker room and leap into the arms of Terrell Owens to hawk a tacky television series before a Monday Night Football game this season.

ESPN also climbed down from its high horse and showed the replay about a gazillion times on ESPNews once it became the talk of the country the next day.

Colts coach Tony Dungy, a former Vikings assistant, finally put the whole thing in perspective when he told reporters in Indianapolis -- this was an interconference controversy -- how Packers fans moon the visiting team buses after Packers victories.

During a radio show this week, former Vikings receiver Cris Carter said he almost "fell off his couch" laughing when he saw Moss pretend to pull his pants down. Obviously, Carter had seen a lot of beefy Cheesehead backsides in his days as a Viking leaving Lambeau.

Given that perspective, the Moss Mooning is particularly funny.

Newspapers did the obligatory "What's Happened To Our Society?" pieces in the aftermath of the faux mooning. Fans and so-called societal experts whined that Moss is a role model whether he likes it or not.

The same people probably sit around the TV on Thursday nights and root for their favorite Survivor to lie, cheat and backstab his way to the million bucks.

Some have said Moss should be kicked out of the NFL. Some have said coach Mike Tice should fine Moss or get rid of him altogether.

In the end Moss was fined $10,000.

As for getting rid of Moss, please. If winning games is still the goal, and it is, then Tice isn't getting rid of Moss anytime soon.

There is good and bad involved in coaching Randy Moss. One just has to hope the good outweighs the bad on a consistent basis. And on Sunday, when Moss caught four passes for 70 yards and two touchdowns in a stunning victory at Lambeau, the good definitely outweighed the bad.

What Moss did the week before in a loss at Washington -- walking off the field with two seconds left and the Vikings lining up for an onside kick -- was much worse than fake mooning the crowd. So was telling ESPN that he didn't give a darn what captain and teammate Matt Birk said to him after the game or will say to him in the future.

People need to quick expecting Moss to be something he isn't. He isn't a team leader. He isn't a role model. He can be filthy-mouthed and arrogant.

But he also visits sick children in the hospital. He was behind a Christmas party for the homeless that the Vikings held at their indoor facility last month.

When it comes to end-zone celebrations, Moss usually is pretty tame. At the Metrodome, he usually leaps into the crowd and then hands the ball to a handicapped child in the end-zone seats.

What Moss did last week in Green Bay was inappropriate -- funny, but inappropriate -- but it wasn't equal to the outrage that was displayed by the analysts and experts.

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