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Here we go again.
Brett Favre might have kept people waiting, but the most important thing from the Vikings’ perspective is that he is back.
The Vikings are thrilled. And why wouldn’t they be? All Favre did was put together one of his finest seasons and lead the Vikings to the NFC championship game, a contest the players would tell you they felt they should have won.
Favre threw a critical interception in the game but otherwise was terrific. He threw 10 touchdowns and zero interceptions in the three games leading up to the Saints loss and was mostly on target in the title game.
The PFW spin
The big question now is whether Favre can come close to matching that excellence in 2010.
Let’s start with the interceptions. Favre threw only seven in the regular season, and if you factor in the playoffs, he had only nine in a total of 601 pass attempts. That was the lowest ratio, by far, in his 19-year career, which is miraculous.
The first instinct is to say that there’s no way Favre will avoid mistakes at that level again. Further trouble could come if WR Sidney Rice’s hip continues to be a problem. Favre helped Rice break out last season and become his go-to target. Although Favre spread the ball around well to Rice, Percy Harvin, Bernard Berrian and Visanthe Shiancoe, among others, Rice was special and caused defenses to change the way they played the Vikings defensively. Also, Harvin and Shiancoe have missed chunks of camp for different reasons and might not be in top form early.
Of course, Favre has missed the entire offseason. Other than firing passes to high-schoolers back in Mississippi, Favre hasn’t had a lot of quality work, spending most of his time rehabbing his ankle, which was surgically repaired this offseason — for the third time.
Last year, concerns were over the health of Favre’s injured shoulder. But this time, it’s his ankle. And the concerns are legitimate. Naturally, a shoulder injury could hurt a quarterback throwing the ball, but coaches and QBs will tell you that the throwing motion starts with the legs. It’s where they get their throwing velocity from and where their mechanics start. Favre has not been a mobile quarterback in recent years, but his subtle footwork allows him to sidestep pressure. That said, Favre was sacked 34 times last season, and that number could rise if the Vikings don’t block better for him and Favre’s ankle proves to be a season-long issue. He turns 41 in October, too.
Favre hemmed and hawed as his ankle healed slowly, and most people have assumed that this has been a case of Favre — the ultimate waffler — being Favre. But what if he felt the pressure from his teammates, including the ones who flew down to Mississippi, and Vikings higher-ups to return when deep down he knows that he’s not healthy enough to make it through a full season?
You also have to consider what his health, conditioning and state of mind are right now with an eye on the early season. We assumed last season that Favre would be a game manager — a prospect that’s almost laughable now. But for the first two weeks of the 2009 season, Favre actually did pace himself and looked a little raw as the Vikings kept the offense simple and didn’t ask Favre to win either game for them.
But that was against the Browns and Lions. This season, the Vikings open at New Orleans in the championship game rematch to open the season on Thursday, Sept. 9, and they follow that up against an improved Dolphins team that has its sights set on the playoffs. Favre will have to be a lot sharper to start the season. An 0-2 start isn’t a guarantee that the Vikings would miss the playoffs, but it makes it a lot harder, especially in an improved division.
It will be interesting to see how Brad Chilress and Darrell Bevell treat Favre in this offense this time around. One line of thinking would be: Why mess with a good thing? Why treat Favre any differently or change the way the offense runs? The biggest questions have been about RB Adrian Peterson and his penchant for fumbling at crucial times, so it would make sense if Childress and Bevell once again turn over the keys to the offense and make Favre and the passing game the centerpiece.
Although things went mostly smoothly, there was the famous sideline incident between Childress and Favre during the loss to the Panthers last season. And for all of Favre’s success, it also meant taking carries away from Peterson, perhaps the best back in the game. What happens if Rice’s hip doesn’t heal? What if Favre’s ankle never heals right and he has to play through immense pain and reduced mobility?
The Vikings are a better team now than they were yesterday. Favre can make throws that Tarvaris Jackson, despite his improvement, cannot. Or better put: With Favre they have a real chance to win a Super Bowl; with Jackson those odds are significantly reduced. If that weren’t the case, the Vikings would not have put on the full-court press to get Favre to return for a 20th season.
Still, there’s far from any guarantee that Favre will come close to matching last season’s brilliance. There are red flags galore, starting with the gimpy ankle and continuing on with an attempt to live up to the incredible expectations coming off last season.
Let the speculation start all over again.
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