In the midst of the longest season of his 14-year career with the Packers, Favre is much the same. He still has a strong arm, he still can avoid sacks with more than just his athletic ability, and he still commands respect from his competitors.
Unfortunately for this year's Packers squad, he still is the same old gunslinger trying to make something out of nothing. While that philosophy worked for him and the Packers in the past, it has been part of their undoing this year. As a result, the Packers are 2-10 and Favre has 21 interceptions.
Certainly the poor record is not all Favre's fault. It is not even close to being all his fault. An inability by him, however, to change and a lack of recognition by Packers' coaches that change was needed early in the season is a major reason the Packers' offense cannot put points on the scoreboard.
The Packers had similar issues on defense a year ago after being thrashed early in the season by the Colts and Titans. New defensive coordinator Bob Slowik's blitzing schemes and defensive system were a disaster and a primary reason the Packers fell to 1-4. A change in philosophy, though not intended from the day Slowik took over his post, gave the Packers a chance to turn around their season. Slowik and head coach Mike Sherman simplified things on defense, and though the unit was not great, the coaches recognized that the blitzing schemes would not work with the players they had. Thus, the Packers employed a manageable, more stable system and relied on their offense to win games. It worked. The Packers went 10-6 when they probably should not have even been that good and advanced to the playoffs.
This season, the Packers have had their share of problems on offense. They have lost almost all of their depth at receiver and running back for much of the year, they have relied on rookies and young players, and penalties have been frustratingly prevalent. As much as those problems have hurt, so has Favre's mentality and what could be perceived as stubbornness. The same mentality that made him so great for so many years has hurt the team so many times in so many close games this year.
Favre, with little reason to believe he should change because of what he has accomplished, has been stand-up about his mistakes, but has not fully realized that he needs to change the way he plays for this season and this team. He said leading up to the Bears game last week that he needed to be more patient than ever against the No. 1 defense in the NFL and was until just before halftime when an errant throw in the end zone led to a 95-yard interception return and a Bears' field goal that gave them a 9-7 lead. Until that play, the Packers' offense was certainly not setting the field on fire, but was managing, mixing in the run and the short pass, and most importantly, the Packers were leading in the game.
On Wednesday at his weekly press conference, Favre admitted that he knows he cannot make any more mistakes if the Packers are to win games this year.
"I know now more than ever in my career that I almost have to play the perfect game considering who's in the lineup and guys being unfamiliar with what we are trying to do and not really having something to hang your hat on," said Favre.
Still, it is unlikely that a different Favre will emerge over the last four games. Other great quarterbacks later in their careers, like John Elway, have changed and been successful, but Favre does not appear likely to go down that road. The one thing Favre still has, that Elway did not, is the same athletic ability he did years ago. Because of that, it has been so hard for Favre to make a change.
Favre is also smarter, too, but that has gotten him into trouble. With an uncanny memory as a quarterback, he recalls broken plays that he turned into touchdowns and others that were adjusted to become positive plays.
"We met this morning for a good while," said Sherman on Wednesday. "He's disappointed about Sunday and throws he did make or didn't make or whatever the case may be. The reason why he is a great player, the reason why we will hold him when he leaves here in such esteem is because number one, he evaluates the game - what could he have done better. He makes the adjustment in his head, and then accountability is not hanging onto it for the rest of your life. He gets ready for the next one. That's kind of where he is right now, getting ready for the next ball game.
"There's a difference between a calculated risk and high risk. He was seeing ghosts on the shovel pass (an aborted play against the Bears which turned into the 95-yard interception return). He has such a memory of plays in his repertoire. He can recite every play in every game. We were talking this morning about a play that I didn't remember that he hit Fergie (Robert Ferguson) on two years ago on a seam post on the backside of a 'Texas,' and we're talking about his progression, and I didn't remember the play, but he remembered the exact play and who ran it and the defense and the whole thing. So sometimes there are different elements that he's playing with that may cause him to do certain things. A bad decision is a bad decision, but those things do exist with him when you play 15 years. Sometimes you see ghosts…"
The Bears have figured out how to win, at least for this year. They have a rookie quarterback in Kyle Orton who is not even close to being in the same league as Favre, yet has eight more wins that the three-time MVP. The Bears, however, have relied on their defense and utilize their talent on offense to the maximum. They found what works and are sticking to it.
The Packers have not found their formula for winning with the offense they have. Adopting what the Bears do would have given the Packers a better record in retrospect, but having Favre play that style would seem unthinkable, and thus unchangeable. They are sticking to what they have and are losing with it.
It should have been apparent to Sherman and other Packers' coaches early in year, even when the Packers were healthy, even with Favre, that their offense was not what it once was. The unit could not find the end zone in the season opener against the lowly Lions, then contributed to an unspeakable loss at home against the Browns, and failed to impress when it mattered against the Buccaneers and Panthers. Even during that 0-4 start, it probably was tough to justify a change with what has worked for so long. After all, the Packers under Sherman had overcome poor starts in the past.
With just four games remaining, the team is still searching for answers with their depleted offense when a change in philosophy, including with Favre, could have gotten them a few more wins to make the season interesting into the final month.
"I don't know if we can honestly say that we've found an identity this year, understandably so" said Favre. "We've tried. We get a lineup, it seems to change. For me, and I know for Mike (Sherman) and Tom (Rossley) calling plays, it's difficult because there's not really one play or a string of plays you can hang your hat on. I guess the best way to put it is that there is no bread and butter in our offense right now because of the inconsistency and losing the lineup."
While it remains easy to blame Favre for what has happened to the Packers, it would be easier to say that no one stepped up to make a change in philosophy, which was really what the Packers needed for one season. Instead, the team will continue to fight with Favre and the same style, which can be expected to produce the same results.
Editor's note: Matt Tevsh lives in Green Bay and is in his 10th season covering the Green Bay Packers for Packer Report and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.