Any time you're talking the Vikings and Packers, there are numerous matchups that spring immediately to mind – Clay Matthews vs. the Vikings offensive tackles, Randy Moss vs. the Green Bay cornerbacks, Greg Jennings and Donald Driver vs. the Vikings cornerbacks, Jared Allen vs. Chad Clifton, etc. But, when the game is being played in Green Bay and Brett Favre is wearing purple, there's no debating that the battle between Favre and Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is this week's key matchup.
When Favre made his initial return to the stadium in which he became a pro football legend, he was showered with boos from Packers fans who felt betrayed that he had opted to play for the sworn enemy of Green Bay and its fans. He was called everything from a sellout to the Devil to Judas on signs being held in the stands by embittered Packers fans. He was emotional coming in, during the game and afterwards. For a player who had seen it all, this was something new.
He had two of his most perfect games as a passer in his two meetings against his former team last year. In the home meeting with the Packers, he completed 24 of 31 passes for 271 yards and three touchdowns in a 30-23 win. In his first game back at Lambeau Field, he completed 17 of 28 passes for 244 yards and four TDs in a 38-26 win that wasn't as close as the final score would indicate.
Asked to summon the courage to face one of the most daunting games of his professional career, Favre went above and beyond expectations, carving up the Packers defense for seven touchdowns while barely getting his uniform dirty because of solid protection the Vikings offensive line gave him. If a Hollywood scriptwriter had been asked to make an adaptation of what Favre's return to Green Bay would be like, it probably would have been rejected for being too unbelievable. Yet it happened.
On the flip side of the coin was Rodgers. It has never been easy to replace a legend. Just ask fans in Miami, Denver, Dallas or San Francisco. In the years following the retirements of Dan Marino, John Elway, Troy Aikman and Steve Young, those franchises had a revolving door of quarterbacks that came and went in the years that followed. Green Bay had no such problem.
Although his first year as a starter led to a 6-10 record, the poor record couldn't blamed on Rodgers. He wasn't just a game manager, he was a field general – a former first-round pick groomed for three years behind Favre. He rarely threw interceptions and made every throw asked of NFL quarterbacks. He was especially adept at throwing the deep ball and, blessed with excellent foot speed, he could turn potential losses into big gains by scrambling when the pocket collapsed. He was a Pro Bowl QB in short order, but he still had to evade the long shadow cast by Favre.
That chance came last year when Favre returned to the NFC North to play the Vikings. But, instead of erasing Favre's memory and legend, he only helped to enhance it. Rodgers was sacked 14 times in two games, and, while his passing numbers were significant – completing 52 of 78 passes for 671 yards and five touchdowns in two games – they were the result of being behind and forced to pass. What matters is wins and, regardless of his gaudy numbers, his 1-3 record against the Vikings is all that history has recorded to date.
Rodgers has won over Packers fans as their quarterback for the next decade. It is likely that, given his age, the Packers wouldn't trade Rodgers for any quarterback in the league. But until he beats Favre and the Vikings and assumes his place on the top of the heap in the NFC North, he will remain the understudy in the shadow of the Favre glare until either Favre goes away and stays away or Rodgers can beat his former teammate heads up.
With the intensity that is promised to be on display Sunday night, both quarterbacks will feel the pressure of this matchup squarely on their own shoulders. Clearly, Favre is nowhere near 100 percent physically with elbow and ankle injuries and the beating he has taken over the course of the young season. Rodgers may not be 100 percent mentally, pushing too hard to exorcise the ghost of Favre from haunting him. Both are going to leave a lot of themselves on the field – physically, mentally and emotionally – by game's end. It will take a toll on both of them and only one of them can leave the field late Sunday night at Lambeau Field as the winner – making this an emotion-laden matchup to watch.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Key Matchup: Favre vs. Rodgers
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