Somehow, they never became rivals.
Sunday’s meeting between Favre’s New York Jets and Warner’s Arizona Cardinals will be only the second regular season matchup between the veteran signal-callers as starters, as both try to help their teams rebound from road losses.
Favre was the NFL’s MVP for three consecutive years from 1995-97, leading the Packers to a victory in Super Bowl XXXI. Warner’s high-powered Rams jumped to the top of the NFC soon after, winning Super Bowl XXXIV while Warner captured MVP awards in 1999 and 2001.
The rare occasions when their paths have crossed, however, haven’t been marked by spectacular play. They didn’t meet in the regular season until Warner was with the New York Giants in 2004, and Favre left Green Bay’s 14-7 loss early with a concussion.
Their lone postseason matchup was a 45-17 St. Louis win over the Packers in a divisional-round game on Jan. 20, 2002. Favre threw a career-high six interceptions, including three that were returned for touchdowns.
Even Sunday’s meeting seemed unlikely a few months ago. Favre retired in March, only to return this summer and join the Jets via a trade from Green Bay. Warner, meanwhile, figured to back up Matt Leinart in Arizona, but won the starting job during the preseason.
While Warner has recaptured some of his old form during the Cardinals’ 2-1 start, Favre has been somewhat disappointing as the Jets have fallen to 1-2.
One of Favre’s two interceptions was returned for a touchdown in New York’s 48-29 loss at San Diego on Monday night, when he rolled his ankle in the third quarter and missed some action late. Coach Eric Mangini said he still expects Favre to make his record 257th straight start Sunday.
“I’m doing everything I can to get ready,” Favre said Wednesday. “How it will affect me during the course of the week or Sunday remains to be seen.”
Favre went 30-of-42 for 271 yards and three touchdowns against the Chargers, numbers Mangini hopes are a sign of improvement for a 38-year-old quarterback playing in a new offensive system. New York had high hopes after trading for Favre, but its pass offense ranks 16th in the NFL at 200.0 yards per game.
“I think there’s been progress each week,” Mangini said. “We threw the ball quite a bit (Monday) night and there’s going to be some times where when you put the ball up in volume, you’re going to have turnovers. Brett’s made a lot of great plays, sort of ad-lib type plays and the receivers are getting more and more used to that and I think he’s getting more and more used to the receivers. As you go along and get the additional reps, that tends to naturally improve.”
The bigger concern could be the defense, which gave up less than 300 yards and 20 points in each of the Jets’ first two games but was burned for five touchdowns by San Diego’s offense.
The 37-year-old Warner hopes for a similar result Sunday. With a pair of top receiving targets in Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin, Warner has the second-highest passer rating in the league through Week 3, and also ranks in the top 10 in passing yards (750) and touchdowns (six).
After throwing for 558 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in his first two games - both Arizona victories - Warner wasn’t quite as sharp last Sunday, going 16-of-30 for 192 yards, two touchdowns and a key fourth-quarter interception in a 24-17 loss at Washington.
“You feel like you play a good game and you don’t make any mistakes,” Warner said, “and then you get one that goes off a helmet and gets picked off, and it turns the game around.”
The Cardinals also came up short with a chance to tie the game in the closing minutes, going three-and-out and punting from midfield while trailing by a touchdown.
Arizona fell to 2-15 in the Eastern time zone since the start of the 2003 season, but the Cardinals tried a different approach before this week’s matchup at Giants Stadium. They didn’t return home from Washington, instead spending the week on the East Coast - something Fitzgerald said he thinks will give his team an advantage over a Jets squad that could be weary from a cross country trip and a short week.
“Even coming in last week and coming in on Friday, that’s a tough process, to come in late on Friday and get acclimated and get your rest and get everything done by Sunday,” said Warner, who initially wasn’t thrilled about the trip. “That’s the one big benefit we’re going to have. We’re going to be acclimated, we’re going to be in a normal routine come Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We’re not going to be out of sorts and rushing to try to get anything done.”
The Cardinals are 14-52 on the road since the start of the 2000 season, and they’ve lost their last four games against the Jets. Their last win over New York was a 37-6 victory on Nov. 23, 1975, a game in which Joe Namath struggled.