Commentary

Favre elevates work-in-progress Jets into AFC stratosphere

Are the 8-3 Jets the best team in the AFC? Perhaps. And the reason for that is all Brett Favre, Gene Wojciechowski writes.

Originally Published: November 23, 2008
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- When he wasn't pumping and bumping fists, biting his nails, slapping his palm against the press box desktop, muttering about the officiating, chugging popcorn, chewing on ice cubes, yelling "Yeah!" after favorable penalties, "Whoo!" after fumble recoveries and, "What'd I tell you!'' after touchdown runs, New York Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum absolutely nailed the essence of his greybeard quarterback.

Moments earlier, with the game against the unbeaten Tennessee Titans still in question, 39-year-old Brett Favre had taken a three-step drop, looked to the left of the end zone for tight end Dustin Keller, saw he was covered, and then glanced toward the middle. That's where wide receiver Laveranues Coles was -- along with three Tennessee Titans defenders.

"When I threw it, I thought, 'This is going to be tight,'" Favre said later.

Tight? The ball nearly skimmed the outstretched hand of a Titans linebacker. Coles, who had two defensive backs on his hip and another rushing toward him, plucked the pass out of the air near the back of the end zone. The Jets suddenly had a 17-point, late-third-quarter lead against the late, great Titans.

Upstairs in the press box, Tannenbaum turned to another Jets official and said nothing. Instead, he held his thumb and forefinger thisclose apart. He knew. It was the distance between success and failure, between stepping on the Titans' neck or letting them back in the game, between the Jets retaining the lead in the AFC East or watching the New England Patriots tie them.

In short, it was Favre personified.

"It's one of those, to me, what I can offer and have offered throughout my career," Favre said. "I always call it The Mike Holmgren Syndrome: 'Oh, no, no, no, no ... good!' So it was good today."

Holmgren used to be Favre's coach when they were both with the Green Bay Packers. Favre drove him nuts. Favre has made a career of driving coaches nuts. He's also made a career of winning MVPs, a Super Bowl and games like the one the Jets dominated Sunday at LP Field.

[+] EnlargeBrett Favre
Charles Small/US PresswireBrett Favre threw for two touchdowns and 224 yards in a 34-13 win over the Titans.
Favre doesn't manage games. He hates that term. Said Favre: "I think it's a polite way of saying, 'Don't lose it for us.'"

With all due respect to the man Favre replaced, Chad Pennington, now starting for the Miami Dolphins, managed games. Nothing wrong with that. But any NFL player and coach will tell you there are times when a quarterback must win games. Favre helped do that Sunday.

His numbers weren't Oklahoma vs. Texas Tech-ish. He was 25-of-32 for 224 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. His longest completion was 25 yards (according to Elias, 22 of the 32 attempts were for 10 yards or fewer). But those three-step drops and bullet passes on slants, that seeing-eye spiral to Coles, those uncanny check-offs from passes to runs and runs to passes … they all explain why the Jets are now 8-3, have beaten the Titans and Patriots in the past 10 days and might -- might -- be the best team in the conference.

"He's a great player and he beat us today," Titans defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said.

Favre had help. Running back Leon Washington had two rushing touchdowns, including a 61-yarder. Running back Thomas Jones (on a baby screen pass from Favre) scored once, as did Coles. In all, the Jets' offense kept the ball for 40 minutes, 30 seconds, compared to 19:30 for the Titans.

As the Jets made their way into the visitors locker room, you could hear a player shout, "Ten and one! I know what their record is now, baby!''

The Titans were no lock for 16-0. But they were at home against the Jets, had a history of running until you dropped, and they featured -- and I mean this in a nice way -- one of the better managers of an offense: Kerry Collins.

Instead, it was the Jets who outgained the Titans 409-281 in overall yardage, 192-45 rushing. Whenever the Titans would put a thousand people in the box, Favre would hit a pass that mattered. Whenever they inched back, Favre would watch Jones or Washington pound away.

"We just want to be taken seriously,'' Jets nose tackle Kris Jenkins said.

The Jets are taken seriously because of Favre. The Jets' offensive line, Jenkins and the dependability of Jones and Washington make a difference. But Favre makes the difference. It is no coincidence that as Favre has grown more comfortable with the Jets and the playbook, the Jets' record has grown more wins (five in a row).

"I get the luxury of playing with somebody who's almost my dad's age," Jenkins said, smiling. "I was watching [Favre] when I started growing my adult teeth. When my mom starting to help me walk, he was on the field playing.'' Then Jenkins turned serious. Sort of.

"I told y'all," he said. "Y'all kept looking at me like I didn't know what I was saying. But Brett's Brett. You got to let him do it. You've got to take everything that comes with Brett. … Whatever he does, man, it's full. It's full tilt. I know we mess with him because he's old. And because he's old. And because he's a little bit older than that. But he's a great guy.''

Favre wouldn't say how far the Jets could go this season. He knows they're a work in progress. He knows he's a work in progress. But a year ago at this time, the Jets were 2-9 and counting the nanoseconds to the offseason. Now they're one, maybe two games away from likely clinching a playoff spot.

"It's way better than probably a lot of people gave us a chance to be at this point," Favre said.

Asked if there was an address he'd like the NFL's last unbeaten team -- the 1972 Miami Dolphins -- to send him a bottle of champagne, Favre said, "I don't drink.'' He paused. "Twelve years ago I'd a ..."

He is having fun, and the Jets are having fun with him. The big wins, like the one here Sunday, feels as good, if not better, Favre said, than the ones he had with the Packers.

"My career in Green Bay was awesome. Was better than awesome,'' he said. "Will I have a 16-year career in New York? I doubt it. But I'm going to try to lump 16 into one and see what happens.''

An 8-3 record. First place in the AFC East. The end of the Titans' undefeated season. Consider the lumping strategy a success.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com.

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