Leader of the Pack

Favre is playing more in control and young offense continues to thrive

Across the NFC, quarterbacks are playing tentatively, erratically, or just plain confused on a snap-to-snap basis.

To the Far West, Mike Nolan is discovering that he can't handicap Alex Smith for 16 games.

Matt Leinart was eaten up and spat out by Baltimore, injured, re-inserted, yanked again, and ultimately upstaged by a 36-year-old teammate.

In Chicago, Reckless Train Rex Grossman is making Cade McNown look like a viable replacement. Losing allies daily, Grossman has one touchdown, 6 picks, and loads of lost confidence (to the tune of "Greee-seee" chants in Chicago.)

Preseason MVP pick Drew Brees? Even worse. One touchdown, 7 interceptions and his team is 0-3.

Uncertainty has reigned supreme under center in the NFC.

And then there is Brett Favre, playing with absolutely nothing to lose. No self-inflicted pressure. No outlandish media expectations. No worries of job security. Favre is playing like a college sophomore in a Sunday morning intramural football game. ‘You go long, You run a slant, You go short. Ready, break!'

For the second straight week Favre completed a pass to eight different receivers. He is manipulating defenses from all angles and having fun in the process. His passes have been quick, crisp, and safe. Against San Diego and New York, Favre attempted a total of 83 passes and was intercepted only once ... on a tipped ball.

Sunday's up-and-down, back-and-forth, 769-yard offensive slugfest proved to the Football Nation that the Packers are for real.

"It was one of those gut-it-out performances all the way around," Favre said. "I think people watching us will see that it wasn't a fluke."

Not a fluke at all. Three wins against teams which were 32-16 last season justifies playoff talk in September. As true as it was in 1992, the Green Bay Packers go through Brett Favre.

The Packers' defense has been key. It hasn't allowed one rushing touchdown in three games and delivered when it mattered most Sunday. The unit forced a punt with 2:27 remaining to bail out an offense that failed to punch in a go-ahead touchdown at the one-yard line. On the defense's next series, Nick Barnett intercepted a Philip Rivers pass to ice the game.

No doubt, the defense was clutch. But Favre won the game.

He wasn't handed a silver platter of weapons this season, either.

Complementing Favre's right arm is possibly the weakest rushing game Green Bay has had since the 1980s. Greg Jennings and James Jones have played in 18 NFL games. For comparison, Rex Grossman's second and third wide receivers (Mushin Muhammad and Mark Bradley) have 179 games of experience. Yet as Chad Clifton kept Shawne Merriman sackless, No. 4 connected with Jennings and Jones for 10 receptions, 161 yards, and a touchdown.

And to think Favre was visibly concerned about the passing game's chemistry two months ago. Jennings and Jones are meshing faster than anyone expected.

Brett Favre's ability to drive throws into miniscule passing windows has existed since his days at Southern Mississippi. The arm strength has remained the same from three MVP seasons to a 29-pick, 4-12 disaster two years ago.

The difference from 2005? Heavin' ‘n hopin' is out; savvy patience is in. Sunday illustrated the refined Favre at its finest. He waited a split-second for drag routes to develop underneath San Diego's secondary. Those wondering how Driver, a Pro Bowl receiver, was consistently open just have to watch Favre's eyes. He is selling other routes downfield, fully knowing what he has elsewhere. The Chargers' defense bit and Favre settled for the dinks that evolved into slam dunks. Add an instinctive pump fake to this mindset and it's awfully difficult for defenses to react to Favre. (See: Bubba Franks' five-yard TD, a byproduct of a Favre pump fake that froze linebacker Stephen Cooper.)

Green Bay's passing offense isn't dominating with exotic plays or formations, either.

Just rewind the game-winner.

"It was an x-slant, drag slant, a very basic play," McCarthy said afterward. "Probably one of the first plays we put in."

Slant passes may appear simplistic schematically but execution demands acute timing. The slightest inkling of hesitation on Favre's slant to Jennings could have led to a tip and a pick. Favre knew Jennings would break his slant off at two yards.

It also took pre-snap recognition.

Favre noticed cornerback Antonio Cromartie was in bump-and-run position, possibly expecting a deeper route from Jennings. On that same side, Cooper was stunting a blitz. Somewhere along his 8,348 career pass attempts Favre learned that even if an outside backer is bluffing a blitz, it's too late for him to drop in hook zone pass coverage on a slant. Cooper was Favre's puppet.

Pre-snap recognition met in-play confidence when Favre fired a missile between the converging arms of Cromartie and Cooper.

Favre won't take credit for any of this. As he closes in on a record equivalent to Barry Bonds home run mark, Favre hasn't adopted an eighth of Bonds' ego. He is just grateful that his receiving corps could make one heckuva 4x100 relay team.

"I'd love to take credit for it," said Favre on Jennings' touchdown. "Yea, it was a decent throw but he caught it and went the distance. Donald Driver did it. James Jones did it. Donald Lee. Bubba [Franks] ... I told them in the huddle, ‘when you get a chance, make a name for yourself.'"

While naming off his receivers, a semi-speechless Favre tossed his hands in the air as if to say, ‘I've never had that luxury.'

This is the core of Favre's rejuvenation. He doesn't have to force 20-plus-yard throws into double coverage as he has done on countless occasions throughout his career. Favre is recognizing coverages, constantly thinking one step ahead of opposing defenses, and playing with absolutely no fears.

Brett Favre is taking the youngest team in the NFL on a wild ride.

Tyler Dunne is a student at Syracuse University and frequent contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at tydunne07@yahoo.com.

Packer Report Top Stories