Healthy Favre puts Jets on par with Bradyless Patriots
MIAMI -- Here's a scenario nobody expected 20 minutes or so into the first Sunday of the 2008 NFL season:
The New York Jets, with a quarterback who turns 39 next month and was handed the team's thigh-pad-thick playbook about five minutes ago, might now be the favorites to win the AFC East. And all because gray-haired Brett Favre jogged off the Dolphin Stadium field in one piece, while 1,459 miles away in Foxborough, Mass., Tom Brady limped off the Gillette Stadium grass with an injured left knee. Brady's next date presumably won't be with Gisele but with the working end of a surgeon's scalpel.
The Jets and the New England Patriots are both 1-0, but the Jets have a Hall of Fame-to-be quarterback who can still stand upright. Sure, Favre said it will take his banana-bruised body at least three more days "until I feel good again." But that beats the medical possibilities facing Brady and the Patriots.
As the "Favre Era -- Jets Version" began here in front of a sellout crowd (sort of; there were empty seats), the "Brady Era -- 2008 Version" ended midway through the first quarter of his game against Kansas City. At the exact moment Brady's knee buckled, Favre and the Jets became the team to beat in a division previously leased by the Patriots.
"I just found out," Favre said. "I heard about that. Man, that's terrible. Terrible. I guess it's [an] ACL or something. They've always overcome injuries and things like that, but that's pretty difficult [with] Tom Brady."
I don't know who told Favre that Brady had hurt his anterior cruciate ligament, but here's guessing it wasn't Patriots coach Bill Belichick. You could sever your arm, and Belichick would describe the injury as "an abrasion." The guy is the prince of darkness when it comes to specifics on anything, especially injuries.
But not even Belichick could keep this one a secret. Without Brady, the AFC East becomes the football version of the National League West. Without Brady, the division dynamic changes immediately, with the Jets as the equal of or favorite over the Patriots, and the Buffalo Bills -- the guys who left hoof marks on Seattle at home Sunday -- as a legitimate player in the equation.
This is a quarterback-driven league, and the best healthy quarterback in the AFC East is now Favre. He didn't put up PlayStation numbers, but he did enough to help beat the Miami Dolphins 20-14. And he did it pretty much without a place-kicker (Mike Nugent strained his thigh on a first-quarter kickoff), without knowing about 25 percent of the Jets' playbook and without having much of a feel for any of his wide receivers.
"I'd be lying if I stood here and told you I feel real confident in the passing offense right now. We overcame that and the guys around me overcame that," said Favre, who completed 15 of 22 passes for 194 yards and two touchdowns. "Every one of those guys on offense, I told them that if I forget something, to tell me. We made some mistakes that I think were the result of the newness, but it's a win."
A night earlier, Favre had spent time writing down the name of each Jets play. "So they sounded and looked normal to me," he said. It was like he was cramming for his football SAT.
But it's one thing to study in a hotel room. Defensive ends aren't trying to turn you into mulch. The play clock isn't racing toward zero. In the team hotel, your only audible is figuring out how much to tip room service.
Favre wasn't perfect. Or near perfect. His goal wasn't so much to win the game for the Jets as it was not to lose it.
He couldn't remember all the plays, so he improvised.
"So a couple of times," Favre said, "I just winged it and said, 'Hey, guys, same play. OK, ready, break, whatever.' [They're saying], 'Same play, what?'"
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With Tom Brady's knee injury, the Patriots plummeted from an exclamation point of an unbeaten 2007 regular season to a huge question mark in 2008.
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It still looks weird to see Favre in somebody else's green jersey. This was the first time in 6,146 days that Favre played a game for somebody other than the Green Bay Packers. Now here he was -- a Jets captain, of all things -- hugging Chad Pennington, the former Jets QB who now starts for the Dolphins, just before the pregame coin flip. Surreal.
"I didn't dwell on it too much, I really didn't," Favre said. "I'm over that. One time during the course of the game, I looked up and they were flashing scores, and I saw Packers-Vikings tomorrow night. And it wasn't like, 'Wait a minute, I'm supposed to be there.' Hey, I'm a Jet. I'm one of 53 on this team, and I'm proud of it."
Favre's first touchdown pass was a 56-yarder to Jerricho Cotchery. His second scoring pass was a 22-yard desperation floater on fourth-and-13 to Chansi Stuckey, whose NFL career highlight, according to the Jets' media guide, was, "Inactive vs. NE (9/9) before being placed on injured reserve."
"First TD coming from Brett Favre, first pro game," said Stuckey, who couldn't quit smiling. The truth is, Favre shouldn't have been in the game then. But Nugent couldn't kick a field goal, so the Jets went for the score.
"I didn't think he had a chance in hell of catching it," said Favre, who eluded one tackler and threw the ball as he was getting hit by two other Dolphins.
Here's another truth: The Jets probably didn't think they had a chance in hell of catching the Patriots this season. But that was before news of Brady's knee injury made its way through the Jets' locker room. Now, strangely enough, anything is possible, especially with the way the schedule shakes out on Sept. 14.
That's right, the Patriots play the Jets at the Meadowlands.
Captain Favre will be there, and maybe this time he'll remember all the plays. As for Brady, who knows? If he does show up, it will be in street clothes and likely on crutches.
This is the sad, harsh reality of the game. Now we see whether the Jets take advantage of it.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at email@example.com.