For the second week in a row, and arguably the third time this season (not counting the undefeated Vikings, who may be for real), Green Bay lost when they could've won. Think of how you felt after investing over three hours watching the game. ... really think. Now magnify the churning in your gut by 100 fold. That's how Favre must have felt after playing in the 34-24 loss. Favre returned to the scene of his worst professional performance and passed for a cool 268 yards and two touchdowns on 23 for 32 passing. But four turnovers, including an interception by Favre, and another M.I.A pass rush resulted in yet another defeat.
"Three-and-four is obviously not Packer football where we'd like to be, but as I say every time, it's the hand we've been dealt," Favre said. "How we deal with it – I don't know if at the end of this season whether we make the playoffs or whether we finish with a winning record. I don't know. I don't really care. And I said that this week, the bottom line is how we handle this, how we come out from here on and how we finish."
Nobody over the age of eight thought the Packers would go 16-0, but 11-5 seemed like a realistic goal. The NFC North Division crown was already being sized for their head before the season even began. But now the highly un-fun record of 8-8 seems a distinct possibility. That hasn't happened to Favre since Ray Rhodes was at the helm of the 1999 squad. It's OK to lose. Everyone since the 1972 Miami Dolphins has done it at least once a season. But what the Packers are most in danger of losing this season is hope. And if that happens, Favre could be close behind.
Favre's ironman streak of 197 consecutive games played (including playoffs) is a testament to how much he still loves suiting up on Sunday. He's a three-time league MVP and was runner-up for a fourth award just 10 months ago. He's got a Super Bowl ring and is a cinch first-ballot Hall of Famer. Keep your Mannings and McNairs; Favre is so good he makes your beer seem colder and your brat taste better. He's leading the league in touchdown passes this season with 13 and has a quarterback rating nearly three points above his career average. But what really keeps Favre playing at age 34 is his love of competition and a legitimate chance at the ultimate prize. Nearly halfway through this season it seems, barring a dramatic turnaround, that he'll have to wait until next year for that opportunity.
But the clock is ticking. Whenever Favre decides to ride his lawnmower into the Mississippi sunset – and only he knows when that will happen – it will be a sad day for every Packer fan. It will be followed by a sad season, then another one and likely a few more after that. You get the picture. Rarely in the NFL does a team lose a quarterback who is still one of -- if not the best -- in the game and find a worthy successor soon after that keeps them on top. The San Francisco 49ers spring to mind, having gone from Joe Montana to Steve Young to Jeff Garcia with first round flop Jim Druckenmiller as only a temporary set back. But it's not the norm.
Bottom line is that if the Packers want Favre pulling a No. 4 jersey over his head beyond 2003, they need to make sure he's having fun. Oh, he's had his moments of joy against Chicago and Seattle. But fun doesn't mean winning half the games. Fun means winning most of the games, possibly some playoff games and if all goes well, ‘The' game. In order for that to happen, Mike Sherman needs to find a way to get more production from Favre's receivers, who have taken a back seat to the backs in the passing game. He also needs some improved play calling from longtime friend and Offensive Coordinator Tom Rossley. Something remotely resembling a pass rush from his highly paid (i.e. overpaid) defensive line wouldn't hurt either.
Will any or all of those things happen in the next nine games? It's possible. Next year? It better. But when Favre stops having fun, so will everyone else rooting for the Green and Gold. Right now, the fun looks like it's fading fast.
(W. Keith Roerdink is a freelance writer from Wausau, Wis. and longtime contributor to Packer Report. Check out his weekly Hot Read column each Thursday.)