The New Orleans Saints' unveiling of their championship banner, the lightning strike of an opening drive that ended with a Drew Brees(notes) touchdown pass, and the second-quarter interception that Favre served up in his own territory while being clocked by a blitzing defensive back all sent the Superdome into a frenzy Thursday and conjured notions of an opening-night blowout.
And then, suddenly, it was Hall of Fame highlight-reel-padding time for the passer who, on so many levels, refuses to quit. Working from his own 47-yard line 46 seconds before halftime, Favre found tight end Visanthe Shiancoe(notes) on a seam route and zipped a perfect spiral between three descending defenders for a 33-yard gain. On the next play Favre floated a 20-yard beauty to Shiancoe, who caught it while falling backward into the end zone, and Minnesota had the lead.
The Vikings had weathered the storm, and it appeared that they were taking over the game.
"Yeah, I thought so, too," Favre said later, seemingly as surprised as anyone by the final score, a 14-9 Saints victory in the much-hyped rematch of last January's NFC championship game. "Probably not the fireworks display that people were anticipating."
Rather, it was the type of choppy, out-of-synch performance many cynics expected out of Favre a year ago after the longtime Green Bay Packers legend and one-time New York Jets mercenary came out of retirement – again – to join the verboten Vikings. Instead, we were treated to one of the more remarkable seasons in the history of quarterbacking, one which ended a few yards shy of a Super Bowl in the same stadium where Favre fell short Thursday night.
In that thrilling NFC title game, Favre absorbed a hellacious beating and hung tough before throwing a late interception that cost the Vikings a chance to win in regulation. The Saints scored on the first possession of overtime to win 31-28, then went to Miami and derailed the Peyton Manning(notes) Express and staged the victory party to end all parties and … well, you know the story all too well.
On Thursday, the defending champs had their moments of 2009-style offensive brilliance, mounting impressive touchdown drives on the opening possession of each half. Credit coach Sean Payton with coming up with his typically brilliant scripts – but, to be fair, credit Leslie Frazier, Minnesota's highly regarded defensive coordinator, and his players for adjusting and allowing nothing else.
Holding the Saints to 14 points, at home, on the night they busted out the franchise's first championship banner and saw Brees, New Orleans' brilliant quarterback, complete 27 of 36 passes (to nine different receivers, by the way) for 237 yards and no interceptions? Not bad – and conventional wisdom would suggest it should have been good enough to win.
The Vikings, however, were even less threatening on offense, and they appear to have some issues as they head into what they've openly portrayed as a make-or-break season.
Minnesota's receiver problems, highlighted by Pro Bowl wideout Sidney Rice's(notes) absence for at least the first six weeks of the season (and possibly much longer) following hip surgery, appear to be very real. Second-year speedster Percy Harvin(notes) caught just one pass for 12 yards; Rice's replacement, Bernard Berrian(notes), had one catch for three yards; and Greg Camarillo(notes), acquired in a recent trade with the Miami Dolphins, wasn't a factor save a late 29-yard reception.
Favre (15 for 27, 171 yards) understandably looked to Shiancoe (four catches, 76 yards) in key situations, but another big target – like, you know, Pro Bowl San Diego Chargers holdout Vincent Jackson(notes) – would've been nice.
Meanwhile, the team's fallback plan before Favre took over the offense a few games into the '09 season – give the ball to star halfback Adrian Peterson and get out of the way – also seems to be lacking. Peterson, whose nickname, AD, is short for "All Day," was more like All First Half on Thursday – after gaining 57 yards on 13 carries in the first two quarters, he got the ball just six more times and finished with 87 yards.
Was Peterson tired after the game? "Not at all," he answered.
Did he want the ball more? "I'll do whatever it takes," he answered. "Whatever it takes to help this team win. I don't know if Coach [Brad Childress] heard me, but I remember walking by in the second half on the sideline saying, 'Hey, give it to me. Feed me.' I don't know if he really heard me. But there's a lot to learn from this game."
To outsiders, all lessons inevitably tend to focus on Favre – partly because he is one of the greatest passers ever to walk the earth, and partly because he is a fascinating study in seat-of-his-pants spontaneity.
Last year, Favre blew off training camp, put on purple for the first time and had one of his greatest seasons in a career of great ones. Apparently, we concluded, preparation is overrated.
On Thursday, Favre took an injection for his surgically repaired left ankle, had trouble sustaining drives and had everyone wondering if he and his receivers were out of synch. Because, you know, he missed training camp and all.
"I think the timing was a little bit off," Favre said at the start of his postgame media briefing, then later added: "Overall, I just missed on some throws I should have made."
Said Shiancoe: "The plays were all there, honestly. We had good plays called, and we could have capitalized. [After the touchdown] I was ready to see the offense get going. I felt like we could've kept scoring on them. We left a lot of plays out there. In the words of Denny Green, 'We let 'em off the hook.' "
If they were relying on their soon-to-be 41-year-old quarterback to carry them, as he did for much of last season, perhaps the Vikings need to come up with an alternate option. Or maybe Favre will elevate his game once more, the way he did for those back-to-back passes to Shiancoe before halftime that were, even for the 70,051 black-and-gold-clad fans in the Dome, a sight to behold.
Not to the man who threw his NFL-record 498th career touchdown pass, however. "I didn't see it," he said as he struggled to put on his left shoe while standing at his locker. Then he flashed that Mississippi smirk that reveals the boyish enthusiasm that keeps him soldiering on through the storm.
"I heard it was pretty good," Favre said.
Yeah it was. But on this night, for this Vikings team, it was not good enough.