QBs stick with playmaking mentalities
The more he watched Tony Romo on that videotape of the New York Giants defense, the more convinced Brett Favre became that he had seen that quarterback somewhere before. The number on the jersey and the colors of the uniform were different, but the instinctively daring player underneath them was quite familiar to Favre.
"They had played the Giants the week before us, and he was making chicken salad out of chicken [expletive]," Favre said. "I was sitting there and thinking, 'That reminds me of someone.' Guys are coming at him, and he's dodging and weaving and throwing. He was using his legs -- not necessarily running for 200 yards -- but making plays. That's playmaking ability. You cannot coach that."
When asked the advice he would offer Romo, Favre said without hesitation, "Keep doing it. Don't let them coach it out of you. Hell, no. It's fun to watch, and defenses, it drives them crazy."
Favre offered me that assessment during an interview in 2007, two days before Romo would become the $67 million quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys and two years before he would win an NFL playoff game that would place similar quarterbacks on opposite teams with a place in the NFC Championship Game at stake.
Both quarterbacks have played against their instincts this season, perhaps more than ever to the benefit of their teams. Romo is not the sandlot wizard of seasons past. He seems more willing to play within the structure of the Cowboys' offensive scheme and allows his defense to influence the outcome of games in a way he had not done previously.
In his first season with the Minnesota Vikings, Favre is making more plays than anybody expected out of a 40-year-old, twice-retired quarterback coming off shoulder surgery with Adrian Peterson just a handoff away.
Both Favre and Romo have phenomenal touchdown-to-interception ratios this season. In the regular season, Wisconsin-raised Romo threw 26 touchdown passes and a career-low nine interceptions. Favre's 33 touchdown passes against seven interceptions produced the highest passer rating of his career.
"You know what, this year, statistically speaking, everyone is going to say, 'Wait, he's played a totally different game,'" Favre said. "Maybe, at times, I did. But it kind of happened that way. I pulled the trigger on a throw at San Francisco the last play of the game that could have easily gone in a lot of directions. It just happened to work out.
Favre Under Pressure
When facing standard pass pressure (four or fewer pass rushers), Brett Favre took 20 sacks this season, the fifth-highest total in the NFL. This seems to play right into the Cowboys' hands, until you look at how Favre performed overall against standard pressure.
Stats NFL Rank Passer rtg. (112.2) 1st Comp pct. (71.7) 1st Pass TD (25) 3rd Pass yds. (3,039) 4th
-- ESPN Stats and Information
"The fourth-and-9 play against Chicago, I throw the ball to Sidney [Rice]; those are plays you better throw or you're going to lose the game. There are maybe times in the first, second and third quarter where you don't have to attempt those throws. I think at times I've been a little more conscious of that this year. But it's not to say that I haven't taken some chances."
Romo similarly disagreed with the theory that the Cowboys and Vikings are opposing each other in Sunday's playoff game because neither quarterback seems to have followed Favre's advice about never letting the coach change the mindset of the passer.
"He still does it; you have to. Just not as much," said Romo, also citing as evidence the desperation game-winning touchdown pass that Favre threw to Greg Lewis in the back of the end zone on the final play against the 49ers early in the season.
Romo was putting on his socks in the Cowboys locker room while discussing Favre, who became his boyhood football idol somewhere between John Elway and Joe Montana. Romo marvels at the velocity Favre generates with an incredibly short throwing motion. Equally impressive is the revolution of the ball, creating one of the tightest spirals in history.
If it seemed that Romo was uncommonly stubborn in failing until just this season to follow the instructions of his coaches to find the right balance between improvisational playmaking and the importance of protecting the football, consider the slow evolution of Favre for a moment.
One of the essential things to know about Favre is the depth of his faith in his own ability. Toward the end of his career with the Green Bay Packers, Favre was forced to endure a game-tape critique of every interception he had thrown the previous season. Favre had to explain his thought process to a member of the coaching staff in the hopes of eliminating those mistakes in the next season.
He is what he is. He makes plays that other people wouldn't make, that other people wouldn't attempt to make, and that's what makes him a special player. Don't change that.” -- Vikings QB Brett Favre on Tony Romo
When the session finally ended and the lights were turned on in the room, Favre said, "Now, let's watch all my touchdown passes."
The point: The same quarterback using the exact same mentality was responsible for both the touchdowns and the interceptions -- and the decisions that led to each.
When Favre underthrew several deep passes in his final Green Bay season and confronted skepticism about whether he had lost the magic in his powerful right arm, he responded in a news conference by daring anybody in the media who believed that to meet him and his football out in the parking lot at the end of the day.
When I asked Favre whether anybody had accepted his offer, Favre said, "No, but let me tell you something. I might have thrown out my arm and ruined my career, but I'd have killed somebody with the football if they had taken me up on the offer."
That kind of unwavering confidence is what Romo admires about Favre.
When Romo suffered a broken finger last season and was deciding how he might be able to play despite the injury, he contacted Favre for advice. Favre revealed in a conference call with the Dallas media Wednesday that they exchange texts occasionally and that Favre offered Romo encouragement as the Cowboys began the December schedule in which they often were doomed because their quarterback frequently failed them.
Romo's Reliable Receivers
Tony Romo did not get flustered in 2009 as he had in previous seasons -- he threw career-low nine interceptions while being sacked a career-high 34 times. Jason Witten and Miles Austin acted as a safety net for Romo when opposing defenses sent 5+ pass rushers.
Witten Austin Targets 54 53 Receptions 50* 33 Catch pct. 74.1* 62.3 Yards 444 660* Yds per rec. 11.1 20.0*
* -- 1st or 2nd in NFL
-- ESPN Stats and Information
Favre understands, perhaps more than any other quarterback, the struggle Romo has endured to become a quarterback who finally has won in the postseason. The impulsive throws that turned Bill Parcells' knuckles as white as his haircut have diminished. The chances he takes are more calculated.
"I think Tony needs to play exactly the way he's played," Favre said. "He does not need to worry about what other people think of him. ... He is what he is. He makes plays that other people wouldn't make, that other people wouldn't attempt to make, and that's what makes him a special player. Don't change that.
"It would be like telling Barry Sanders, you know, 'Hey, don't cut back. All your blockers are front side.' You can't tell him that. You've got to live with that. I think with Tony and myself and players like that across the league, you have to be able to first, as a player, accept it yourself. But stay with what got you there."
The same thing has gotten them to a January matchup.
The most mind-boggling thing about Favre's playing against Romo in a game that will be the last of the season for one of them is this: Three times early in his career, Favre suffered playoff defeats against the Troy Aikman-led Cowboys. Now, nearly 10 years after Aikman retired, Favre finds himself in a playoff game against the Romo-led Cowboys.
"Brett's been playing the game at such a high level for so long that he's in a class by himself," Romo said on a conference call with Minnesota reporters. "There's always comparisons being made to him all the time, but there's only one Brett Favre."
And then there is a quarterback in Dallas who has reminded the one and only Brett Favre of himself since the very first time he watched him play football.
Ed Werder covers the NFL for ESPN.com and contributes weekly to ESPNDallas.com.
NFL PLAYOFFS: THE ROAD TO MIAMI
The Cowboys next face the Minnesota Vikings on the road to Super Bowl XLIV (Feb. 7, Miami).
VIKINGS 34, COWBOYS 3
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