FIRST AND TENTo be fair, there were other people from Eastern Wisconsin on the playing field with Brett Favre. Quite a few as a matter of fact. Yet it was next to impossible not to focus in on the grizzled, harried face a great many folks consider to be the personification of a modern professional football warrior.
Favre's personal tragedies have been well covered, from his father's death to his wife's battle with cancer to losing his Louisiana home in the hurricane. Each of them, it seemed, was etched in his face as the Packers first took the field Monday night against the Panthers. Falling behind by 19 at halftime appeared to bring the worry-lines out even more prominently.
Suddenly, Brett Favre looked every bit the 36 years old quarterback who'd been sacked too many times.
Of course, three touchdown tosses and two two-point conversions in little over a quarter to almost single-handedly resurrect his team's fortunes will bring life back into any man's face – especially a man as legendary as Favre.
The Packers lost. The hole they dug was just too deep. But Favre's absolute refusal to succumb to the weight of the tide against him inspired his team to within a hair's breadth of victory.
Though they fell in defeat, the Packers did so with dignity.
It would not have happened with a lesser man at quarterback.
A FEW OBSERVATIONS FROM MONDAY'S CONTEST* Not all the quarterbacking accolades belong to Brett Favre. Jake Delhomme finally broke out with a dynamic, efficient performance. Though he fumbled again under pressure, a turnover that might have cost his team the game – again, this is the Jake Delhomme we will, in time, come to expect.
* I particularly like the way Carolina stuck with the run. Much has been said about the Panthers' lack of a running game. But I think the type of running game the Panthers employ requires time to develop. It's basically a running game of attrition.
* Speaking of running, I'm forever impressed with Stephen Davis' technical command of the position.
* Is it any wonder opponents are picking on Chris Gamble?
* Speaking of Gamble, I was praying someone on the defense would step up and make a fourth quarter play. Gamble did and he saved the win.
* Carolina opened up the running game with the passing game. Delhomme's two first half touchdown throws kept the Packers honest in the box.
* Monday night games are cool because your team's on the national stage, but if you're an East Coast fan like me having to stay up past 1:00 a.m. it's brutal. Especially on Tuesday.
* I think pretty soon, the Panthers are going to get good and tired of getting dinked and dunked on all the time…and create a way to offset the strategy.
* I think it's okay that Thomas Davis is making his mark on special teams and not in the starting lineup.
* Adrian Klemm was a player I watched this offseason because he was such a highly rated offensive tackle coming out of college. Spending three years in New England is a plus, too. He struggled against Mike Rucker after moving from guard to tackle due to an injury, which is understandable. But I think he acquitted himself fairly well in the second half.
* Not having Javon Walker on the field for the Packers has really hurt that team.
* John Madden made note of it several times during the game, but I also think Dan Henning did and excellent job mixing his play calling. Not having to come from behind helps.
* I like that Keary Colbert made a few grabs. I was especially impressed with his almost-catch, one-handed, at the back of the end zone.
* Did I see Rod Gardner on special teams? If yes, then…golly. I still think Gardner will make a mark later in the year as the Panthers begin a push for the playoffs.
* Jason Baker had a couple of poor punts – his first poor punts this year – but he still afforded the Panthers good field position.
* Mike Minter had some nice hits.
* DeShaun Foster's stiffie of Earl Little for twenty-five yards will be a classic ESPN highlight.
* I think John Fox should have called a time out in the fourth quarter during the Packers' last touchdown drive to give his defense a chance to catch its breath. The Panthers were leading by eleven points, so there was no impending need to hoard timeouts and the Packers' obvious plan was to go no-huddle and throw the ball quickly after the snap. Can't get a pass rush that way and the soft zone coverage is mighty susceptible to the slant pattern. Carolina's defense could not regroup as Favre pushed the action. A timeout would have helped.
* To use a boxing phrase, I think the Panthers were saved by the bell.
THIRD AND GOALCarolina pulled out the victory. That's the most important thing. As gratifying as it was to see one of Pro Football's greatest players heroically rally his teammates one last time on a national stage, it was even more gratifying to see the Panthers play the kind of football they're capable of playing.
Even if it was for only three quarters.
The Panthers are 2-2 and do not have a losing record. That's a key point as the team moves into a soft spot in its schedule and has a real chance to arrive into NFC South division play with a 5-2 record. They might just need the cushion.
Tampa Bay suddenly looks mighty again. New Orleans: we already know what they can do…and can't do. Atlanta is solid, especially on defense, and they always seem to match up well against the Panthers.
If Carolina can shake its bi-polar tendencies, a division crown is not out of the question despite the rest of the division's early success.
TOUCHDOWNA quarter of the season is in the books and the Panthers have survived.
That's fitting commentary.
You can reach Chaz at firstname.lastname@example.org