When word came down on Tuesday night that Brett Favre was on the inactive list, ending the second consecutive games started streak at one game following the 297-game iron man streak that preceded it, there was reason for more than a little concern on the part of Vikings, players, coaches and fans.
The rationale made sense. The Philadelphia Eagles were coming off one of the greatest come-from-behind wins in recent memory, scoring 28 points in just over eight minutes to win the game and bury the Giants in the NFC East title chase and were in the running for a first-round playoff bye. Instead of facing Favre, they were facing a wide-eyed Joe Webb, a sixth-round rookie who wasn't even drafted to play quarterback, but with injuries to both Favre and Tarvaris Jackson, Webb was being thrown to the wolves.
It was expected to be a massacre – a message being sent by the Eagles to the rest of the league that the rookie was going to be in for the beating of his professional life and Michael Vick was going to put on a show.
Instead, it was Vick who took the pounding of six sacks and Webb who was the field general, running an efficient game plan that was turnover-free in his debut as an NFL starter. He was so impressive, he stunned the Eagles and even surprised some of his own teammates.
"I don't think anyone could say they expected this and I'm happy for him," wide receiver Percy Harvin said. "You kind of knew he was focused in. He handled himself like a veteran during the game. In the huddle, you could tell he was commanding everybody, getting the linemen straight and letting everybody know he was going to change the snap count. I can't sit here and say I expect it to be that way."
But for those who spent more time working with Webb while he was mired at No. 3 on the depth chart, his performance was in keeping with his demeanor throughout the season.
"I wasn't surprised," offensive tackle Phil Loadholt said. "He's had a lot of confidence from the time he came in. We sensed early on that he was a confident guy and, when you're playing on a big stage like that, it would be expected that he would be a little nervous, but he didn't show any of that."
Webb said that his transition from being drafted as a wide receiver to becoming the starting quarterback has been helped considerably by the man he replaced in the lineup Tuesday night – injured starter Brett Favre.
"He's influenced me a lot," Webb said. "I got a whole different look at the game – the way he studies film, the way he approaches the game and the way he is during the game. If he makes a mistake, he's the same Brett that he is in the locker room. Just his whole approach, I learned a lot from him. It was dealing with him during the year."
His receivers were all laudatory of Webb's debut as a starter, saying that he was able to bring the element of elusiveness to the position that was lacking when Favre was in the lineup. The 20-year veteran is a straight drop-back passer and, when the heat was applied, he was unlikely to escape trouble. Webb was able to make plays with his arm and his feet, including a 9-yard touchdown run in the second half.
"He did a great job," wide receiver Greg Camarillo said. "Joe has great quarterback talent, but even better athletic talent. That's what he showed Tuesday. He was creating plays, not just regular quarterback plays, but breaking tackles and making people miss – stuff that you don't always expect from a quarterback, but the type of thing Joe Webb brings. It gave us that little spark we needed on offense."
Loadholt said that his ability to keep plays alive by going on the move to make plays is the type of quality that made him special Tuesday night.
"He brings something different," Loadholt said. "Any time he gets some pressure, he can roll out, be mobile and make some plays with his feet as well. That's a big help."
As the Vikings head into their 2010 season finale Sunday at Detroit, interim head coach Leslie Frazier said there is still a dim glimmer of hope that Favre can return to start his final NFL game. Asked if being benched again in favor of Favre would affect the rapport they have built, Webb said nothing could be farther from the truth.
"It wouldn't affect it at all," Webb said. "He's a future Hall of Fame quarterback. Any time he has a chance to be on the field, that what you want to do."
Whether his first start will be his only start of the season or he gets to perform an encore for the fans in Motown, Webb has sent the message that he has what it takes to be a starter in the NFL and, after the final gun sounds Sunday, he will be the only quarterback with the Vikings the entire season under contract – making his future brighter than anyone could have envisioned when he was switched from wide receiver to quarterback last spring.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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