Brett Favre wanted to play with Randy Moss for at least four years. He got his wish, for four games anyway, and lost three of them.
With Moss, Favre had 264 yards in their first game together and 259 in their last game together, the top two yardage outputs of the season … until Sunday.
In the Vikings' first game since Brad Childress made the decision to release Moss (and put his own job in jeopardy with the way he went about it), Favre uncorked the most productive game of his career – a 446-yard passing performance against the Arizona Cardinals.
The last time Favre threw for 400 yards was against Chicago on Dec. 5, 1993 – 16 years and 337 days between 400-yard passing games, the longest stretch in NFL history.
The Cardinals came into the game tied for 21st in pass defense, but Favre skewered them by using a variety of receivers. Percy Harvin ended with a career-high 126 yards receiving despite a left bum ankle. Bernard Berrian tied his career high with nine catches and had 89 yards. Greg Camarillo had his most productive day as a Viking with four catches for 66 yards. And Greg Lewis tied his most productive day with the team with four catches.
Without Moss, the Vikings spread around the ball and didn't shy away from passing. By the time they had finished their fourth-quarter comeback, eight players had caught Favre passes, six of them had four or more receptions and five of them had 60 yards or more.
"We've said this all season. This team has way too much talent to be struggling on offense the way we were. You see what we did in no-huddle and two-minute drill, and Brett was able to sling the ball wherever he wanted and picked up 400-something yards," Harvin said. "This team has talent. The talent has been here. Hopefully we can go back and look at this tape and see a lot of good things we did."
Despite the gaudy numbers, the Vikings found themselves in a 24-10 hole with 4:39 to play in the game, but the passing game began to do more than just pick up yardage – it started scoring despite the lack of a big-bodied deep threat once again.
"It's not a matter of not having Randy, but just us playing as a group," Camarillo said. "You can do that with or without Randy. We just had a good rotation. It's not a microcosm of the whole team. Everybody played together. The receivers played together as a group, the defense played together as a group, even with ups and downs, but when it counted we came together."
There were plenty of downers early on. The Vikings gave up 14 points on special teams and Favre threw two critical interceptions. One came on the first possession, when Favre misfired for Lewis and safety Kerry Rhodes returned it 66 yards. However, Camarillo caught him from behind at the 3-yard line and punched the ball out the back of the end zone to give possession back to the Vikings on a touchback.
"That was such a momentum shift right there," tight end Visanthe Shiancoe said. "They had all the momentum right there, and it just got stripped from them. Energy is very important in this business. It makes people play maybe a little out of body, a little bit higher, a little bit higher level. So, plays like that – seven in comparison to zero, and we get the ball back – I can't even tell you how much that means."
That helped the Vikings survive a scoreless first quarter. On their first possession of the second quarter, it was the passing game that gave them their first points. Favre connected with Berrian for 18 yards and Harvin for 25 before a swing pass to Peterson scored from 12 yards out.
Berrian may have been the surprise of the game. He entered Sunday with nine catches through seven games and equaled his previous production for the season in one game. His previous best of the season was two catches, which he did three times.
Sunday was his breakout. He had receptions of 18 and 22 yards, the latter coming on the Vikings' game-winning drive.
With a run called to the left, Favre saw a blitz coming that way and he figured it would hinder their success. He turned to his right and fired a quick slant to Berrian that he continued to take up the middle of the field to the 27-yard line, putting the Vikings in position to kick the game-winning field goal.
"I don't think it's a matter of personal pride. I think everyone has got pride in themselves and I don't think anyone in this locker room is going to just tank no matter what the record is," Berrian said. "We love to play this game."
Without Moss, the Cardinals didn't have their safeties playing deep, but the Vikings made a concerted effort to hit their receivers with quick passes.
Harvin admitted that things were different without Moss.
"Definitely it was. But I've been saying all year that it's different without Sidney Rice out there too," Harvin said. "It's another target, another big target. A lot of teams couldn't triple or bracket me like they tried to do today."
Even with bracket coverage and an ankle that caused him to limp all week, Harvin broke out for a career game.
Favre said on Wednesday that Berrian entered the practice week preparing like it was the Super Bowl. Without Moss, Berrian knew he would have to be counted on more, and Favre said he told Berrian prior to the game that he was going to have 10 catches. He finished one short of that prediction.
"No one would have guessed that the game would have unfolded the way it did. There was a point in the game that everyone in the building thought that we didn't stand a chance," Favre said. "I said this during the week: I know our guys – Greg Lewis, Greg Camarillo, Hank Baskett – we're going to get opportunities and they were excited about it. Can they stretch the field like Randy Moss? No one can. But I knew we were going to get great effort from those guys and that was the ultimate deciding factor."
And the Vikings might just get Sidney Rice back in the mix Sunday against the Bears.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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