With the talk of Brett Favre possibly missing his first start since 1992 this weekend against the Patriots, why not take a look at his would-be replacement, Tarvaris Jackson?
I am constantly amazed when I hear from people about Jackson and the rancor they seem to hold for this young man. Radio show hosts bemoan his name like Jackson made mother jokes about them. Fans hold him in vehement disgust, like he refused to autograph their kids' pennants.
And yet, you have to ask, more than a third of the way through a trying Vikings season, no more trying to anyone than Favre, is the alternative that much worse?
Passer ratings are sometimes as spurious as the Fed's economic numbers because they ignore so many factors, but they do tell part of the story clearly. So, there's no reason why we shouldn't pair up Jackson's career passer mark of 77.9 with Favre's rating of 68.0 this season.
Both men have more in common than you'd think. When they are bad, they are baaaaaad. Coming off last season's twilight flourish, and considering all of his achievements, Favre is the universally accepted better choice. Naturally. But Jackson has had some moments where he has looked like — don't laugh — a young Donovan McNabb. He has some real NFL-caliber skills for the position.
With that in mind, here is my take on Jackson's five best performances in the NFL, in reverse order:
5. Week 16, 2008 season (24-17 loss to the Falcons): Jackson threw for 233 yards and two TDs and rushed for 76 yards, but he also lost a fumble (one of two on the game, although RB Adrian Peterson could have taken the blame for the handoff) at the Falcons' 16-yard line. The Vikings were killed in this game when Peterson was held to a pedestrian 76 rushing yards, the run defense struggled without Pat Williams and the team had some fluky plays go against them. Jackson hit on 11 straight passes at one point and threw two TD passes to Visanthe Shiancoe, the second of which made it a one-score game with just under three minutes remaining, but the Vikings couldn't close it out.
4. Week 12, 2007 (41-17 win over the Giants): This game is best remembered for Eli Manning's disastrous performance, in which he threw four interceptions, three of which were run back for scores. But Jackson, in his ninth start, acquitted himself well almost immediately. He hit Sidney Rice on a 60-yard TD pass a mere 41 seconds into the game. And though Manning did his best to sink his own team, the Giants made it a two-score game at the start of the second half with a quick field goal and were within striking distance. Jackson responded — he converted two key third downs during a 14-play drive and helped eat up more than nine minutes of clock and put the game out of reach. Jackson's final numbers were not amazing (129 yards passing, 38 rushing), but his efficiency was uncanny (10-of-12 passing, 10.8 yards per pass attempt). He was both a game manager and a playmaker in this one.
3. Week 17, 2008 (20-19 win over the Giants): The Giants already had wrapped up the NFC's top seed, but head coach Tom Coughlin ended any question of benching starters quickly. He played to win, as did the Vikings, who were looking for their first playoff appearance in four seasons. Jackson was not perfect, throwing a pick in the endzone that was returned to midfield, but he directed a comeback from down 19-10 and took only two sacks against a blitz-heavy defense that ranked among the best in the league. Jackson threw for a season-high 239 yards, hitting Bernard Berrian with a 54-yard bomb to cut the Giants' lead to two points in the fourth.
2. Week 13, 2007 (42-10 win over the Lions): Jackson settled into a groove in his first real chance to run the Vikings' offense as the starter in his second season. In this game, he completed 18-of-24 passes for 204 yards and two touchdowns, leading the Vikings to TDs on their first six possessions. Jackson showed poise and command and led a team that was getting Peterson back from injury in that game.
1. Week 15, 2008 (35-14 win over the Cardinals): In his finest hour, replacing starter Gus Frerotte, Jackson was accurate, precise and deadly with his 17 passes, completing four for touchdowns — of 41, 6, 11 and 59 yards — against a Cardinals defense that would be in the Super Bowl a month and a half later. He set the tone early with the 41-yarder to Berrian, thrown just outside the defender's reach, and helped stave off an Arizona comeback by hitting Wade on the 59-yard bomb as the third quarter was ending. Jackson did little with his legs (three rushes, three yards) but showed that he could be a pocket passer who could attack a passive defense that clearly was unimpressed with his skills.