Hot Read: Passing Game Comes Alive

There's been a perception by defensive coordinators lately that if you want to have a shot at beating the Packers, you need to put the ball in Brett Favre's hands. In San Diego, the three-time NFL MVP delivered a simple, but eloquent message: Perceive this!

With a running game that's transformed from the Incredible Hulk back to Bruce Banner over the last three weeks, Favre showed that there's plenty of havoc to be wreaked on opposing defenses courtesy of his right arm, a nearly healed right thumb and an unheralded receiving corp. that's been an afterthought up to this point.

In his most impressive outing of the season, Favre completed 23 of 33 passes for 278 yards and four touchdowns to put his team in a first-place tie with Minnesota atop the NFC North Division. Not only did his three fourth-quarter scoring tosses keep his team's playoff hopes alive, it kept Favre within one of Peyton Manning's league-leading 28 touchdowns, after the Colts signal caller threw five against the hapless Falcons.

"They must have woken up on the wrong side of the bed," receiver Robert Ferguson said. "How can you say you're going to make Brett Favre beat you? He's been doing it for years. So anyone who says they're going to make Brett Favre beat them, we're going into the game with a smile on our faces."

Favre threw short, long, in the pocket and on the run. By throwing a touchdown in his 23rd consecutive game, he set a franchise record, surpassing the great Cecil Isbell. Two potential touchdowns got away from him and two beautiful out of bounds passes kept Favre's numbers from being even more impressive. Of course Favre being Favre, he did throw the ill-timed (like there's ever a good time) interception – once again on third down. He leads the league in third-down interceptions with 11. But sports heroes, like their Greek tragedy counterparts, are best when they're flawed. Perfection, after all, is too hard to relate to.

Nine different receivers hauled in passes against the Chargers, including running back Ahman Green, the teams' leading receiver. But it was starting receivers Donald Driver and Ferguson who led the way.

Driver, a first-time Pro Bowler last season who has faded into the background this year, busted out with eight catches for 112 yards and a score. It was the team's first 100-yard receiving game since Javon Walker posted triple digits in their playoff loss to Atlanta last January. As Favre was quick to point out, it's not like Driver – or any of the receivers for that matter -- has had a lot of opportunities to put up eye-popping numbers this season.

"Donald's caught a lot of heat here the last couple of weeks," Favre said. "But like I told him after the game, 'You know why you had over 100 yards? Because you had eight balls thrown to you.'

"It could have been Ferg. It could have been Javon. It could have been anyone. It was Donald today. Donald made some great catches, and he had pass interference called against, which is always questionable, so he could have had more. I think we threw one pass to him last week. One for four, so it doesn't really seem like it's his fault. It's just a matter of making plays."

Then there's Ferguson. Green Bay bypassed Chris Chambers, the Miami Dolphins (and former Wisconsin Badgers) receiver to select Ferguson out of Texas A&M three years ago. At the time, Ferguson's potential was compared to that of Jerry Rice. Yes, that Jerry Rice. While that seems a little ridiculous in retrospect, Ferguson has stepped up his game as much as any player on the team this season.

Aside from his work on special teams as a kick returner and coverage guy, he's become a willing downfield blocker and shown a knack for the clutch catch, from his third down grab deep in their own territory that kept the Packers 99-yard drive at Tampa Bay humming to his handy work in San Diego. Ferguson had just two catches on the day, but both were for touchdowns, including a sensational over the shoulder catch in stride for a 40-yard score on a busted screen pass to Green.

At 6-foot-3, Walker is the most physically gifted of the bunch and was the first to emerge this season as a viable deep threat and red-zone target. He's made the difficult catch look routine as he edges closer to reaching the vast potential the Packers saw in him when they made him a first round draft pick out of Florida State a year ago. Like Ferguson, he had just two catches against the Chargers, though neither were for scores. But while he's No. 3 on the depth chart, Walker still leads the team with seven receiving touchdowns and 551 yards while averaging 16.2 yards per catch. His 66-yarder against San Francisco remains the teams' longest pass play of the season.

So with the offense achieving true balance for maybe the first time all year, Green Bay has given opponents even more to worry about. Teams may still scheme to stop Green first, but they'll neglect Favre and a re-energized passing game at their own risk.

W. Keith Roerdink is a freelance writer from Wausau, Wis. and a longtime contributor to the Packer Report. Check out his weekly Hot Read column every Thursday.

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