Tell the scenario to your buddy back in June and he would have fired a cold Vito Corleone stare back at you. Reality isn't this cruel.
Ted Thompson refuses to take Brett Favre back. Aaron Rodgers goes 0-6 in games decided by four points or less. Favre is named a Pro Bowl starter. One season removed from being an overtime away from the Super Bowl, the Packers limp to 5-9. One season removed from 4-12 dormancy, the Jets are 9-6 and alive for the playoffs.
Shouldn't there be a riot ravaging Oneida Street?
Now, of course, the core reason Green Bay has digressed six games (and counting) is not Rodgers. Rodgers has performed at a Pro Bowl level (3,470 passing yards, 27 total touchdowns). The Packers have their quarterback of the future. Not many teams can say that.
Meanwhile, the defense has gone invertebrate. No backbone. Remember in August when the Favre vs. Thompson dust settled? Mike McCarthy vowed the Packers would be a defensive-minded football team that wins in the trenches. Ha! After getting posterized by the likes of Lance Moore, Kevin Walter and practically every opposing running back (the rush ‘D' ranks 26th), McCarthy's statement is nothing but a betrayed campaign promise. And now, Thompson has no choice but to open his wallet and gut the defense this offseason.
So, no. Rodgers is not the direct reason Green Bay is arguably the NFL's biggest disappointment this season.
Be he sure is the biggest "what if" variable in all of sports. And this year will forever be a "what if" season in Packers lore.
The way in which the Packers eroded into bottom-feeders can't help but reraise the question: Did Thompson make the right decision? True, only a full career from Rodgers can decide that. But in the here and now, the answer is obvious. No way does Favre lose six games with the ball in his hands at the end. No way. With Favre, the Packers are fighting for an NFC North title.
His 43 fourth-quarter comebacks say so. This season was tailor-made for Favre. A bad defense giving him the ball back. Games up for grabs week in and week out. The most talented receiving corps in Packers history. The rejuvenation that was 2007. Parody begging for contenders in 2008.
Earlier this week, Antonio Freeman and Dorsey Levens — who were selected as next year's Packers Hall of Fame inductees — compared this season to 1999. Like this year, high expectations were met with a thud. But even on that 8-8 team, it took three Favre miracles to reach respectability — one of many seasons Favre salvaged by himself.
You remember the 1999 ride. The 10-point comeback (and ensuing tears) against Oakland. The fourth-down strike to Corey Bradford against Minnesota. The 73-yard drive in 40 seconds that beat Tampa Bay. All of it 100 percent Favre manufactured. Green Bay should have been 5-11 that season. Instead, playoff hopes were alive into Week 17 — the way it was in 15 of Favre's 16 years with Green Bay.
There was Favre's 2004 Christmas Eve spectacle in Minnesota that clinched the division title. A pick-six put Green Bay in a 31-24 hole with 6 minutes left. Favre fired back. An 11-play, 80-yard drive finished with an improbable low beauty to Donald Driver on fourth-and-goal. Favre got the ball back and then marched 76 yards in 11 plays to set up the game-winning chip shot.
We can go on and on with specifics. From Kitrick Taylor to Freeman's "Monday Night Football" overtime holy roller to Jennings' "MNF" OT bomb to ... sorry, I'll stop. No use opening floodgates of tears over keyboards everywhere.
Under Favre, last-second miracles became routine. Signature wins blurred together. You expected the impossible. You assumed Favre would somehow generate playoff hopes every year.
For whatever reason, a J.P. Losman aroma overcomes Rodgers in crunch time. The ball is slicker. The Lambeau breeze is stiffer. Production plummets. If he wins half of those heartbreaks — just half — the Packers are a game out of the division title.
Instead, the record skips to same beat every week: Defense allows late score, Rodgers turnover. Again and again.
Maybe this is just an early demon that'll fade away — an ‘ol knee-slapper Rodgers will laugh about in 15 years, rings dangling from his fingers. After all, we all remember Kobe Bryant air-balling himself into oblivion against Utah in the 1998 Western Conference Finals. Michael Jordan wasn't tough enough to beat the Pistons. Steve Young couldn't beat Dallas. Phil Mickelson couldn't beat, well, anyone. All stars had their demons. Rodgers has the two-minute warning.
Fair or unfair, the late-game mishaps have defined your 2008 Green Bay Packers: "Crumbling in Crunch Time" (something tells me NFL Films will bypass this catchy alliteration in the annual neo-chipper team yearbook video).
Even on this team — poisoned with an underachieving defense and a bipolar running game — Favre wins a chunk of these nail-biters.
Back in July, the pro-Rodgers posse pointed to minicamp. The Packers had moved forward and tweaked the offense in Rodgers' favor beyond repair, they said. It was far, far too late for Favre to come back. Lunacy.
First, it's a myth that training camp actually matters for proven veterans (ahem, Favre was with the Jets for a grand total of seven days before his first game). And second? The manner in which the Packers have lost games this year — manic, last-gasp drives — has nothing to do with X's and O's drilled during padless practices in March. Never has been. Favre's game-winning fourth-down score to Bradford? He told his receivers to just "go deep." Pump fake to the right, throw to the left, touchdown. Yeah, real rocket science. The following week's game-winning to Freeman? A backyard gambler's toss to the back end zone. That's all Favre. That's cojones, not a playbook. Not something taught in McCarthy's quarterbacks school. Favre's sheer will.
Adrenaline meant more than strategy. Sure, there were a smattering of wall-punching, scream-at-the-nearest-family-member interceptions. But Favre usually emerged the victor. Only now it's in a different uniform, a different green, a different dismal gloom-to-bloom situation.
Favre's glow in the Big Apple has rotted. After three losses in four games, New York needs to beat Miami and get help to make the playoffs. But the "what if…" won't die.
Does Favre change the play call to a pass at the 1-yard line against Carolina? Does he really take a sack in game-winning field goal range like Rodgers did against Houston? Does he mismanage the clock (see: Minnesota), force interceptions into bad areas (see: Atlanta, Carolina, Jacksonville) or throw a 2-yard dump-off on third-and-10 with 2 minutes left (Tennessee).
Do the Packers really drop from 13-3 to 5-9 with Brett Favre?
We'll never know. Thankfully, it's safe to stroll down Oneida Street. Fans at Lambeau are belting "Roll out the Barrel," beverage in hand, midway through the fourth quarter of every game. Only once that song ends and the clock ticks down, hope is scarce.
It's a sinking feeling nobody's used to.
Tyler Dunne writes for Packer Report. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
No way Packers are 5-9 with Favre
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